Guatemala News Update: November 16 -22

Community leaders will be released after unjust imprisonment

Five community members from Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, who were illegally imprisoned for seven months, have succeeded in proving their innocence. On Thursday, a judge in Jalapa dismissed the charges against them due to lack of certainty and weakness of proof brought forth by the Public Prosecutor’s office. Communitaria Press calls this development “a victory for peaceful resistance,” as those imprisoned were criminalized for their resistance to the Escobal mine. Canadian-based Tahoe resources and it’s Guatemalan subsidiary San Rafael Mining have carried out recurring acts of violence against peaceful protesters, and the government has used its own institutions to support the company.

Meanwhile, Tahoe Resources recently announced that the company is ready to ramp up production at the Escobal silver mine. Though the company reported a net loss last quarter (the first quarter of production), its stocks rose following this announcement.

Public prosecutors want trial for military extrajudicial killings

The Public Prosecutor’s Office wants the Constitutional Court to revoke a prior decision to modify charges against eight military members, led by Col. Juan Chiroy Sal, involved in the killings of six people during the October 4, 2012 confrontation in Totonicapán. The eight men were originally charged with extrajudicial killing and attempted extrajudicial killing, but High Risk Court A Judge Patricia Flores reduced the charges. The lawyer for Chiroy Sal criticized both the prosecution for maintaining their original claim, as well as the protesters for committing actions of violence during the confrontation.

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News Update: October 5-11

Dialogue ends without results

The dialogue between the government and six communities in Northern Huehuetenango did not result in visible progress this week. Among other requests, community members asked for the suspension of three hydroelectric dams; the promotion of a community referendum; and the revocation of 24 arrest warrants against community leaders. The dialogue ended with an agreement to forgo violent protests and draw a road map that will lead to a positive outcome.

Eight arrested for Nacahuil massacre belong to Mara 18

Eight supposed members of the Mara 18 gang were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly carrying out the Nacahuil massacre on September 8. Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz said that the supposed motive of the massacre, which killed 11 people, was the liquor store owners’ refusal to pay extortion money to a group of gang members. She also stated that the attack was ordered from inside a prison. Interior Minister López Bonilla stated that minutes before the massacre, the Civil National Police were tipped off to a potential attack there. Widows of the massacre continue to reject the alleged gang role in Nacahuil and still believe that the Civil National Police were involved in the night’s events.

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Urgent action to avoid further violence in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Urgent! Communities in Huehuetenango are under siege by Guatemalan military and police. The security forces were sent to break up peaceful protests in reaction to the illegal detention of a local resident. Several people have already been injured and we fear that there could be further violence.

Please call the Guatemalan Embassy to express concern about the safety of peaceful protesters in Huehuetenango. Urge the Guatemalan government to avoid further conflict, uphold the rule of law and respect human rights. 
In the US: 202-745-4953. In Canada: 613-233-7188.

Please tweet at the Guatemalan government to ask them to avoid further conflict and ensure the human rights of peaceful protesters. Suggested tweets (with translations to English) are below.

Over the last few years, various municipalities in northern Huehuetenango have protested against planned mega-development projects including the Canbalam Dam in Santa Cruz Barillas. Recently, protests have included roadblocks across the region to pressure the Guatemalan Government to enter into a real, public dialogue with those opposed to the projects
On Sept. 28, Mynor López, who has been active in the resistance movement, was seized by men in civilian clothes, taken to a military helicopter, then handed over to the police. In response to the abduction, protests erupted across northern Huehuetenango, blocking various roads. The government mobilized hundreds of police and soldiers to break up the protests using tear gas launched from army helicopters as well as live rounds fired by security forces. A soldier was killed in the clashes. Despite evidence that his injuries were self-inflicted while attempting to fire a tear gas canister, the government publicly blamed protesters for his death.
In addition, the Interior Minister announced that 40 arrest warrants would be carried out for various acts allegedly committed since 2011. Over the past year and a half, over a dozen community members have been arrested for their resistance to the Canbalam Dam. Several of them were incarcerated for up to eight months before being released because of a lack of evidence against them.
A delegation organized by the International Commission of Jurists visited Mynor in jail and report that he shows evidence of physical violence, even torture.
Community members are now asking the government to respect an agreement reached on September 30 to withdraw security forces and have a real dialogue regarding the proposed hydroelectric dam. Can you stand with them and help prevent further bloodshed?

Suggested Tweets

@ottoperezmolina Decimos no al uso del ejército o un estado de sitio para reprimir a protestas pacificas y legitimas en Huehue  #Guatemala

(We say no to the use of the army or a state of siege to repress legitimate and peaceful protests in Huehue #Guatemala)

@mlopezbonilla Garantice la protección, bienestar y los #derechoshumanos de los ciudadanos en Huehue #Guatemala

(You must guarantee the protection, well-being and #humanrights of citizens in Huehue #Guatemala)

@pncguatemala Insisto que dejen de usar la violencia en Huehue #Guatemala y que se retiren del lugar para evitar más conflictos

(I insist that you stop using violence in Huehue #Guatemala and that you remove yourself from the area to avoid further conflict)

@GuatemalaGob Respeten los #derechoshumanos en Huehue #Guatemala. Cese la violencia contra las manifestaciones pacificas.

(Respect #human rights in Huehue #Guatemala. Stop the violence against peaceful protests)

@PDHGt Pedimos que hagan una visita a Huehue #Guatemala para monitorear la situación y la integridad de los detenidos

(We ask that you visit Huehue #Guatemala to monitor the situation and the well-being of those detained)

@Oacnudh_GT Pedimos que hagan una visita a Huehue #Guatemala para monitorear la situación y la integridad de los detenidos

(We ask that you visit Huehue #Guatemala to monitor the situation and the well-being of those detained)

@usembassyguate We are very concerned about the situation in Huehue #Guatemala and the evidence of #humanrights abuses against protestors

@mlopezbonilla @ottoperezmolina Hay que respetar el acuerdo con las comunidades ayer para evitar más conflicto en Huehue #Guatemala

(You must respect the agreement reached with the communities yesterday to avoid more conflict in Huehue #Guatemala)

News Update: September 7-20

Residents of San José Nacahuil say police responsible for massacre

On September 7, 11 were killed and 15 injured after gunmen opened fire at a cantina in the indigenous village of San José Nacahuil, San Pedro Ayampuc. Though officials blame the attack on gang violence, families of the victims report that police are responsible and call for officials to hold them responsible.

Analysis following this tragedy has indicated the possible connection to the peaceful non-violent resistance at “La Puya,” which community members of Nacahuil are involved in. One theory is that the massacre was carried out to justify militarizing the community and providing security to the mining project, which has been delayed for over a year because of the community’s peaceful resistance known as La Puya. Representatives of La Puya note that this event comes after their peaceful, non-violent resistance has been facing intimidation from police patrols since August 31, and that in the past events like this one have come before repressive measures against La Puya.

The Interior Minister is evaluating whether to place a police station in San José Nacahuil in the future. The police left the village around 2004 due to local sentiment that the patrol was causing more insecurity. Continue reading

News Update: August 31- September 6

Indigenous group brings complaint against Mining Law to IACHR

The Western People’s Council of Mayan Organizations (CPO) has filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) against Guatemala’s Mining Law, based on the law’s lack of a mechanism to consult with indigenous communities, which the CPO claims violates international law. Previously, the CPO challenged the law before Guatemala’s Constitutional Court but the Constitutional Court upheld the Mining Law, leaving the CPO no recourse but the IACHR.

CICIG has new leader

Iván Velásquez Gómez is the new head of the International Comission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). President Otto Pérez Molina announced that this was the last period of CICIG in the country and the investigation of ongoing and new cases will continue until 2015, when they will have to transfer the work to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police.

Polochic families demand integral support

While the government is set next week to give 140 land titles to families evicted from the Polochic Valley two years ago, these residents point out that land is not sufficient to return to a sustainable lifestyle. The area where they will be relocated is more than 80 km from their original community of Agua Caliente and lacks water, roads, and basic services. They also expressed frustration over the cumbersome and bureaucratic process of obtaining the titles.

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GHRC and NISGUA hand over 2800 signatures demanding the release of Rubén Herrera

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Since Friday, March 15, Rubén Herrera, member of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango for the Defense of Natural Resources has been imprisoned in Huehuetenango, Guatemalaemala. He is charged with crimes including kidnapping and terrorism allegedly committed in relation to resistance to the Cambalam hydroelectric dam, operated by Spanish owned Hidro Santa Cruz. Citing irregularities in his case, over 2800 people from 52 countries have signed a petition to Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and President Otto Pérez Molina calling for Herrera’s immediate release. On May 22, GHRC and NISGUA staff handed over the signatures to the Prosecutor’s Office.

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Weekly News Roundup

July 20-August 2

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

Weekly News Roundup

May 24th – May 31st

  • Elections for Human Rights Ombudsman temporarily suspended. On May 24, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court (CC) temporarily suspended the election for Human Rights Ombudsman after formally recognizing attorney Gustavo Martínez’s appeal to halt the election. Martínez filed the appeal because candidate Jorge De León Duque’s license to practice law was supposedly not up-to-date when the election shortlist was created, violating the Nomination Committee’s licensing requirements for the position. However, on May 30, the CC verified De León Duque’s qualifications and voted unanimously to allow the election to resume. The Standing Committee of the Legislature has scheduled the election for May 31.
  • UN Women to open an office next month in Guatemala to promote gender equality. On May 24, UN Women, an international organization created in 2010 to combat discrimination against women, announced that they would open an office in Guatemala this June. UN Women representative Ana Guezmës believes that there is an imperative for the organization to be in Guatemala in light of the high rates of sexual assault, femicide, and other types of gender-based violence that affect three out of every seven Guatemalan women. The new office will also work to address the economic hardships facing women in Guatemala.
  • Authorities capture men allegedly responsible for May 1 attack in Santa Cruz Barillas. On May 25, authorities captured two men suspected of murdering Andrés Pedro Miguel and seriously injuring Pablo Antonio Pablo and Esteban Bernabé on May 1 in Santa Cruz Barillas. The two men captured have been identified as Ricardo García López and Armando Ortíz Solares, and the investigation into the attack has revealed that although López and Solares did not work for Hidro Santa Cruz SA directly, they were subcontracted to work for the company as security guards. However, Hidro Santa Cruz still denies that it is affiliated with the men in any way, and on May 26, the company warned that it would take legal action against anyone who spread false information about the company’s relationship to the two men in custody. The question still remains as to whether Hidro Santa Cruz consorted with the bodyguards to murder Miguel, or whether the men had their own motives.
  • Quiché opponents of Hidroxil, SA hydroelectric company come before Constitutional Court (CC). On May 28, representatives from Nebaj, Quiché urged the CC to annul Agreement 99-2011, created by the Ministry of Energy and Mines under former President Álvaro Colom. The agreement authorized the Spanish company Hidroxil, SA to build the La Vega 1 hydroelectric dam on the rivers of Suchum and Xajbal in Quiché. In the meeting with the CC, the representatives stated that they did not oppose the function or operation of the hydroelectric dam, but instead opposed the Spanish company’s disrespectful conduct towards the indigenous communities.
  • UDEFEGUA records a 72.24% decline in number of attacks against human rights activists in Guatemala. On May 29, UDEFEGUA released a report that found that in the first quarter of 2012, there were 68 reported attacks against human rights activists, a 72.24% decline from the 245 attacks registered in the first quarter of 2011. Udefegua also found that 40% of the 68 attacks were directed at female activists. Verbal threats, defamation, persecution, and illegal detentions are among the several types of attacks UDEFEGUA recorded.
  • Peace Archives slated to close. On May 31, Secretary of Peace Antonio Arenales Forno announced the closure of the Peace Archives, a resource created in 2008 to digitize and analyze evidence of human rights violations that occurred during the internal armed conflict. The facility’s two million documents include information on military personnel involved in the internal armed conflict as well as chains of command that specify the dates of specific massacres. Researchers from the archives have served as expert witnesses in several human rights cases, including the ongoing case against ex-Head of State Efraín Ríos Montt. Forno predicts that once the facility closes, the digitized files will go into the General Archives of Central America in Guatemala City.
  • Guatemalan government intervenes in election for Guatemalan director of FLACSO. On May 31, the Guatemalan government intervened in the election for director of the Guatemalan headquarters of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO). The government vetoed FLACSO Guatemala’s unanimous decision to elect Dr. Óscar López Rivera, whom FLACSO Guatemala was preparing to present that day at the institution’s General Assembly meeting in Quito, Ecuador. Earlier this week, the Guatemalan government told the General Secretary of FLACSO to remove Dr. Rivera as the Guatemalan director and to expect to receive the name of a government-sanctioned replacement candidate soon thereafter. The government did not offer an explanation for its actions. Although governments are technically allowed to intervene in these elections, only in Mexico and in Chile has a governing body exercised that right in recent years. The academic institution has made a public statement denouncing the intervention.

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

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.