Guatemala News Update: October 20-24

State of Prevention Extended 15 Days in San Juan Sacatepéquez

On October 21, the government extended the “State of Prevention” imposed upon San Juan Sacatepéquez by another fifteen days. The State of Prevention, which has been in place since September 21, suspends constitutional rights in the wake of a violent clash in the community of Los Pajoques. The conflict resulted from a dispute over the construction of a cement factory and a highway.

On October 24, a group of women from San Juan marched through Guatemala City to demand an end to the State of Prevention. The women presented a complaint regarding alleged abuses with the Human Rights Ombudsman and ended the march in front of the presidential offices to call on the government to end its use of martial law.

SJS-marchThree Linked to Criminal Network Run by Byron Lima Oliva

The ex-Director of the Penitentiary System, Édgar Camargo; the wife of Byron Lima Oliva, Alejandra Reyes Ochoa; and an ex-agent in the National Civil Police, Carlos Cermeño, have been linked to criminal activity headed by Byron Lima Oliva. Charges against them include conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: October 13-17

Process for the Election of Judges in Guatemala in Question

At least 80 actions have been filed with the Constitutional Court related to the process of selecting the magistrates for Guatemala’s Supreme Court and appeals courts.

The United Nations, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and several national and international organizations have requested that the Constitutional Court (CC) order a repeat of the process from the very beginning, alleging that there were various violations of the law which governs the process. The CC also ordered that until it is able to rule on the actions, the appointment of the new magistrates is suspended, and the existing magistrates will remain in their positions.

In addition, one judge who was appointed to a court of appeals, Claudia Escobar, resigned in protest claiming that she had been pressured by a member of Congress, Gudy Rivera, to rule in favor of Vice President Roxana Baldetti and the ruling Patriot Party in exchange for the appointment to the court. In response, the CICIG requested the Rivera’s immunity from prosecution be removed.

In a separate process, two lawyers have been charged with abuse of power with the Third Appeals Court Judge, Erick Gustavo Santiago de Leon. The Public Prosecutors Office alleges that the attorneys offered Santiago de Leon Q16 million to reduce a fine for a company from Q93 million to Q3 million. Meanwhile, the magistrate was reelected to the appeals court. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: October 6 – 10

Request to Lift “State of Prevention”

Residents of San Juan Sacatepéquez are requesting that the government lift the “state of prevention.” There is extreme tension between soldiers and civilians; soldiers are intimidating children, and some offer them candy in exchange for the names of their parents or the whereabouts of people the Public Ministry is searching for.

Supreme Court Asked to Take Action on Nominations

Human rights ombudsman Jorge de León Duque has demanded that the Constitutional Court take action in order to resolve the controversy surrounding the recent selection of thirteen judges. Claudia Escobar, a judge from the Fifth Circuit of Appeals, has also renounced the elections. Some minority sections of Congress are asking that the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala investigate, though the organization has yet to receive a formal request.

No Respect for Human Life

Archbishop Óscar Julio Vian Morales claims Guatemala has no respect for human life, speaking in light of recent violent incidents, such as the kidnapping and murder of a ten year-old girl named Dulce Velásquez. To combat rising violence, Vian proposes a better education system and the cultivation of values in children.

Halt in Adoptions May Be Fueling Border Surge

In 2008, Guatemala halted all adoption proceedings. Before this, about 4,000 children a year were adopted by American parents. Some experts are saying that this halt is contributing to the recent surge of migrant children to the United States. Advocates point out that if adoptions had not been halted, many of these children risking their lives en route to the United States could have been legally adopted in the first place. In the United States, these children face detention centers and deportation, while in Guatemala, they face poverty and exploitation by gangs.

Mexican Raids Resume

Mexico has resumed raids against the influx of Central American immigrants crossing its borders in order to reach the United States.

Guatemala News Update: September 29-October 3

Former Guatemalan Police Chief to Stand Trial

A trial began this week against former police chief Pedro García Arredondo, who is being charged with ordering the massacre of 37 people who were peacefully protesting inside the Spanish Embassy in 1980. The massacre, which involved soldiers and police setting fire to the embassy, occurred in the context of Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war. Thirty-seven people, most of them indigenous Mayans, were killed.

Child Migration to US “Neither Sin or Crime” Says Guatemala Foreign Affairs Minister at United Nations General Assembly 2014

Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Raul Morales spoke to the United Nations General Assembly on the importance of promoting greater prosperity in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, in light of the recent child migration crisis. Morales spoke about the importance of working with the United States to resolve the issue, but warned against criminalizing the children, citing the culpability of human trafficking networks.

European Union Donates $15.4 Million To Strengthen Justice in Guatemala

The European Union has appropriated $15.4 million in aid to Guatemala. The money will go towards improving the quality of justice services, such as the Institute of National Forensics and the Penitentiary System, among others. Continue reading

Guatemalan News Update: September 22-26

Community Members and Organizations Commemorate 5th Anniversary of Killing of Adolfo Ich

On September 27 of 2009, Adolfo Ich Chamán was murdered by private security forces working for the Fenix nickel mine in El Estor, Guatemala. Adolfo’s death was part of a wave of violence committed by employees of CGN, the Guatemalan subsidiary of Canadian mining company Hudbay Minerals, against anti-mine activists. On the same day that Adolfo was killed, seven others were injured, including German Chub, who was shot and left paralyzed.

Community members in El Estor will commemorate Adolfo’s death, as well as the ongoing community resistance, through ceremonies and events to take place on September 27, 2014. Representatives of GHRC will be present at the commemoration in Guatemala. Today, a memorial in solidarity with those in El Estor will also be held in Toronto in front of Hudbay’s corporate headquarters.

State of Emergency in Guatemala Town After Clashes

On September 22nd, Guatemala declared a “State of Prevention” in San Juan Sacatepéquez, a municipality outside the capital. The emergency measures, which suspend constitutional rights, were allegedly put in place in response to acts of violence committed in the community of Los Pajoques on the 19th and 20th of September. The clash, which killed eleven people, resulted from disagreements over the construction of a cement factory and proposed highway which would cut through the community.

Click here to read GHRC’s statement detailing concerns over the State of Prevention in San Juan Sacatepéquez.

Congress Receives “Acceptable” List for the Supreme Court of Justice

On September 22nd, a list of twenty-six candidates for the Supreme Court of Justice was sent to Congress. Thirteen Supreme Court judges were then elected from the list candidates, amongst suspicions that the final list had already been decided upon prior to the vote. Human rights groups have expressed frustration at the selection proceedings, which have been criticized as being opaque, responding to private interests, and guaranteeing a “pact of impunity.”

New Talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry

On September 23rd, government officials from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras met with Secretary of State John Kerry to present plans to stop the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children into the United States. The plans were the result of a July meeting with President Barack Obama. Chancellor Carlos Raúl Morales, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said, “The idea is that from these plans, a discussion with the United States will open for two or three months…”

Plans for Immigrant Family Detention Center Draws Criticism

Federal officials are planning the construction of a new detention center near San Antonio to house Central American immigrant children and their parents. This new center could be run by a for-profit prison firm with a history of holding families in deplorable conditions. Advocates warn against the use of detention centers to house families. “It breaks down the structure of families,” said Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

New Instances of Political Repression of “Los q’eqchies”

This article looks at the connection between violence and the exploitation of natural resources in Alta Verapaz, where the construction of a hydroelectric dam is being planned. On August 15th, the National Civil Police violently evicted dozens of families and entered the village of Semococh in order to capture two leaders of Codeca, an organization of peasants and indigenous peoples calling for justice and better living conditions. The conflict ended in a violent clash between the police and villagers, which left three villagers dead.

Guatemala News Update: September 8-19

IACHR Declares Guatemala in “Contempt of Court”

The IACHR published its resolution from a May supervisory hearing at the Inter-American Court, in which the Court asked the government of Guatemala to report on the progress it had made in 11 cases, including the Rio Negro and Military Diary cases.

In its resolution, released August 22, the Court stated: “Guatemala did not inform about advances in compliance [...] but instead assumed a radical change in its position intended to question the Court’s decision [...]. For example, Guatemala questioned the ability for the Court to try crimes before 1987, and negated the continuing nature of the crime of forced disappearance.

The Court explicitly stated that Guatemala’s position expressed at the hearing “constitutes a clear act of contempt of court,” and reminded Guatemala of its legal obligations to comply with Court sentences — above and beyond any domestic laws — including amnesties.

Violence Possible in Mining Sector

Amnesty International released a new report about mining in Guatemala, calling attention to the growing social unrest and conflict provoked by these projects. According to the report, the Guatemalan government is exacerbating social conflict and the likelihood of violence by failing to consult with local communities before awarding mining licenses to companies. Despite fierce opposition to mining licenses, the government has awarded at least 240 licenses to businesses so far. The report can be read in full here.

Hundreds Protest over Rural Development Act

On September 18th, hundreds of indigenous and rural citizens protested in front of Guatemala’s Congress to show support for the passage of the Rural Development Law and to repeal a law that would prohibit any obstacles which block roads or limit transportation. The Legislative Branch should consult the indigenous towns before passing laws that directly impact them, yet the government recently passed several laws without the approval of indigenous groups.

The protests caused several road blocks which were maintained for three to four hours. During violent attempts by the police to break up community roadblocks by Ch’orti’ communities in Chiquimula, reporter Norma Sansir was arrested by the police. There have been several other instances of violence against reporters and government actions that contradict the idea of free press.

On September 23, Norma and four others who were arrested were released from jail.

Prior Agreements Shown in Court of Appeals Nomination Process

The process to choose nominees for the Court of Appeals began yesterday (September 17th). As a final list of candidates was compiled, questions arose over whether some names included in the list were already agreed upon, prior to the vote.

Extension of CICIG mandate to be considered

Despite previous recommendations not to extend the mandate of the CICIG — a UN-backed international body charged with helping State institutions investigate serious crime — President Pérez Molina announced that the executive branch will consider an extension of the CICIG in respect to specific sectors that would benefit from its support.

Guatemala News Update: September 1-5

AP: Guatemala Bishop’s Killer Ran Alleged Jail Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telesur: Guatemala Strikes Down ‘Monsanto Law’

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