Guatemala News Update March 8-14

Under the Volcano: Mining conflicts in Guatemala erupting in violence

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

Backlash continues over hydroelectric projects in Guatemala

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

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

Survivors remember victims of Río Negro Massacre

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

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Guatemala News Update February 1-7

Attorney General Paz y Paz ordered to step down in May

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court provisionally ruled that Attorney General Paz y Paz will end her term in May of this year instead of December.  International bodies, and Paz y Paz herself, argued against the decision. They claim that the decision was because those who have been affected by “crusader” Paz y Paz’s quest for justice while in office want her removed. The court ordered Congress to convene the commission to find Paz y Paz’s successor, but despite support from the Patriot Party there were not enough votes in favor of doing so.

Photo: mimundo.org

Photo: mimundo.org

Guatemalan government to respond to conditions in the U.S. Appropriations Act

Government officials are preparing a response to the conditions imposed on the Pérez Molina administration in the U.S. Appropriations Act. Pérez Molina has rejected the conditions, and blamed them on Appropriations Committee Staffer, Tim Rieser. Meanwhile, Vice President Roxana Baldetti stated that it wouldn’t be possible to compensate the communities affected by the Chixoy Dam because the government doesn’t have the resources to do so.

IACHR hears case of Florentín Gudiel Ramos

The Inter-American Court on Human Rights heard the case of Florentín Gudiel Ramos this week, charging Guatemala with failing to protect the human rights leader, who was murdered in 2004. Gudiel’s daughter Makrina, also a human rights defender, testified in the case, noting that the entire family continued to receive threats after her father’s death.

Complaint filed against Mayor of San Miguel Ixtahuacán for forced labor

On January 8, five communities brought a complaint to Guatemala’s Supreme Court against Mayor Ovidio Joel Domingo Bámaca claiming that he forced them to work for free. In 2010, the IACHR requested precautionary measures for the communities affected by the Marlin Mine, asking Guatemala to guarantee access to potable water. The plaintiffs explain, however, that as part of the plan to provide water, the Mayor required community members to work for free and cover some costs of the project. Between 2005-2013, Guatemala has received Q445.1 million in royalties from mining in San Miguel Ixtahuacán.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs to travel to Guatemala

The U.S. Department of State announced that William R. Brownfield will travel to Honduras and Guatemala next week. In Guatemala, he will meet with President Pérez Molina and the director of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) to support strengthening Guatemala’s rule of law and combat insecurity.

Guatemala: Calling on the International Community

In the second article in the series of four, the Huffington Post outlines Guatemala’s violent past, including the 36-year civil war and the current debilitating organized crime situation in the country, despite the signing of the 1996 peace accords.

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 Kicks Off November Speaking Tour with Lorena Cabnal

This week, GHRC kicked off our November Speaking Tour with Lorena Cabnal — an indigenous Xinka woman and community feminist — in Houston, Texas. After earning her degree in Community Social Psychology, Lorena co-founded the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán (AMISMAXAJ) in 2003.

GHRC-speaking-tour

Lorena Cabnal and GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones with Father Gerry, of Maryknoll house, and members of the RPDG and ADOGUAH — co-sponsors of a great event on Monday evening!

At out first event, Lorena discussed the status of Xinka women in Guatemala, as well as her experiences as a community activist. She described seeing a great amount of violence against women, young girls getting pregnant at the ages of 12 or 13, and women with up to 15 children. There were also issues with human trafficking, with young girls being sold into prostitution or into illegal international adoptions.

As Lorena and other members of AMISMAXAJ began to denounce these attacks against women, they also organized against oil extraction on their ancestral lands. The group discovered that there were 31 licenses for exploration for extraction projects in the Jalapa region, and warned the indigenous government that oil and mining projects “will become a serious problem.”

Lorena also explained what she called a “statistical ethnocide” against the Xinka people — the fact that the Xinka were not recognized as an ethnic group until the peace accords were signed in 1996, and that the Guatemalan government estimate of the Xinka population was much lower than a self-organized census found. Continue reading

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 21-27

Ex-police chief sentenced to 40 years

Hector Bol de la Cruz, chief of police from 1983-85, was convicted in the 1984 kidnapping and disappearance of student union leader Fernando Garcia. The court also sentenced former senior police officer Jorge Gomez to 40 years for his role in the kidnapping.

Former Kabil Standing Trial in U.S. for Lying on Citizenship Application

Federal prosecutors are accusing Jorge Sosa, a former Kabile, of lying on his citizenship application by concealing his involvement in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre that left over 200 people dead. Sosa, who is married to an American, was originally denied asylum in 1985. If convicted, Sosa could be stripped of his United States citizenship and face 15 years in prison. Guatemalan authorities will seek his extradition to charge him with crimes against humanity as well.

Guatemala to Rent Drones for Video Surveillance

The Interior Ministry announced that in 2014 it will rent a fleet of drones, for video surveillance. The Ministry stated that the drones would be used in military and security capacities. They will permit the government to, among other things, monitor drug trafficking along the country’s borders, criminals and criminal activities, and protests.

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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 visits Qanjobal community in Omaha, NE

On August 9th and 10th, I traveled to Omaha, NE, and had the honor to get to know the Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim (CMPI). Juana Marcos, Executive Director of CMPI, was a recipient this year of GHRC’s Voiceless Speak Fund. She and her husband, Luis Marcos had invited me to participate in the first annual Omaha Celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

The celebration included religious and spiritual observance, cultural activities, and a conference on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As I waited for the activities to begin on Friday evening, I chatted with Ricardo Ariza of the Creighton University Multicultural Center and watched several dozen teenagers file shyly into the room. They were joined by members of the local Qanjobal community.

Nebraskan Youth experience Mayan Ceremony

Qanjobal is one of the 22 Mayan linguistic groups in Guatemala, which is concentrated in the north western department of Huehuetenango. I was surprised to find such vibrant Qanjobal culture in Omaha of all places, and delighted every time I heard children switching seamlessly between speaking English, Spanish and Qanjobal.

Brothers Juanatano and Daniel Caño display elements of Mayan Ceremony

Brothers Juanatano and Daniel Caño display elements of Mayan Ceremony

Mayan spiritual guides had been invited from Guatemala to perform a ceremony and explain its significance. Professor Daniel Caño, who teaches at Rafael Landivar University in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, laid out some of the elements used in the ceremony to shared with us why they are used.

Overall, he said, the ceremony is a way to thank the earth for what we receive from her. So, many of the elements are used because they are pleasing such as sugar, flowers, cigars, and an incense made out of pine sap. Candles of six colors are also burnt, each representing a different element. The six directions are also an essential part of the ceremony—north, south, east, west, up and down.

Dr. Rudi Mitchell explains the Omaha people's Cedar Ceremony

Dr. Rudi Mitchell explains the Omaha people’s Cedar Ceremony

As the four spiritual leaders prepared the elements for the ceremony, Dr. Rudi Mitchell,elder in the Omaha tribe, performed a cedar ceremony, and told us about its significance for many tribes around North America.  Then, as day fell, the Mayan ceremony began. 

Mayan spiritual leaders, Professor Caño explained, are also called day counters in Qanjobal, as they are keepers of the Mayan calendar. Over the next two ours, while the candles and other materials burned, the four leaders listed the 260 days of the lunar calendar.  

Mayan Spritual Leaders prepare materials for the Ceremony

Mayan Spritual Leaders prepare materials for the Ceremony

The next morning, the conference began. Keynote speaker, Bishop Ramazzini discussed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIPS), as well as other pieces of international law such as the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. As he pointed out, ILO 169, which Guatemala has signed, is the most binding and complete legal mechanism for upholding indigenous rights.

Both ILO 169 and DRIPS uphold indigenous people’s right to control the lands they the traditionally occupied as well as the natural resources contained in those lands. This right is routinely violated in Guatemala as indigenous communities are evicted or minerals or oil are taken from beneath them without their permission.

Bishop Ramazzini

Bishop Ramazzini

Bishop Ramazzini also discussed how the right to equal treatment is not upheld for indigenous communities in Guatemala, especially when it comes to basic services. He pointed out that in Huehuetenango, which has one million inhabitants, there is only one public hospital, and it doesn’t have the technology to provide basic services like ultrasounds.

Bishop Ramazzini lamented that when he and others in the Catholic Church speak out against this rampant racism, they are accused of being terrorists. His prescription for change was to place more indigenous Guatemalans in positions of power to gain more political clout and push for greater respect for indigenous rights.

I also had a chance to speak about UN-DRIPS and the way that GHRC’s work supports the rights enumerated in the declaration. Obviously, our work around access to land and natural resources reflects the rights I outlined above. However, our work against militarization is also backed by the declaration, as it calls for the demilitarization of indigenous lands. I also had the opportunity to describe the strategies that GHRC uses to carry out our work to support human rights and invite the audience to join us.

KeJ on Panel

On the panel with me were representatives of the Omaha tribe who outlined the concerns faced by indigenous peoples in the United States, including poverty, contamination of their water supplies and dislocation. Strikingly, they could have been describing the situation faced by Mayans in Guatemala.

The second day of the celebration closed with an evening of cultural activities including marimba music and dance. Touchingly, a group of young men and women performed a dance they had choreographed themselves to honor the four cardinal directions. Luis confided to me later, that these same youth not long ago had been ashamed of their identity as Maya because of the discrimination they faced. It was heartwarming to see them now, celebrating their culture and sharing with their community.

Written by Kathryn Johnson

News Update: July 11-July 24

Mining

Suspension of mining license in San Rafael

The Civil and Commercial Court of Appeals suspended the mining license for the San Rafael Mine, El Escobal.  It also ordered the Director of the mine, Fernando Castellanos, of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, to negotiate the complaints presented by social organizations against mining activities.  The sentence was given by the Center of Legal, Social and Environmental Action (Calas).

Three lawsuits against HudBay in Canada to move forward

The lawsuits seek to hold Hudbay Minerals responsible for shootings and gang rapes committed by their subsidiary in El Estor, Guatemala. After the ruling by a Candadian judge, the cases can move forward in Canadian courts. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, 13 Mayan Guatemalans, said the decision is a “wake-up call” for Canadian companies about their responsibilities at foreign mining projects.

Congress hears mining license moratorium proposal

When Congress was presented with the Executive’s proposal to put a moratorium on mining licenses for two years, they said it will not go into effect immediately because it needs to be read thoroughly, sent to the Energy and Mine Commission, and later returned to start the discussion.  The goal of the proposal is to give Congress time to reform the current mining law, and eventually to reduce social conflict.

Mining license moratorium is harshly criticized

Many environmentalists are skeptical that the proposal to place a moratorium on new mining licenses came too late.  In the days before President Otto Perez Molina announced the moratorium, many mining licenses were distributed.  However, others say it is still important because it will trigger a dialogue between the public and the industries.

Another criticism came from The Center of Legal, Environmental and Social Action (Calas), who spoke out against the granting of seven metal mining licenses at a national level.  They are accusing Fernando Castellanos, General Director of Mining, for this illegal action.

In other news:

Internet series about the Rios Montt Trial unveiled

A new internet series about the Rios Montt Trial was produced by Skylight Pictures.  The series is titled “Dictator in the Dock,” and consists of 24 episodes that reproduce the trial and sentencing of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez.  Impunity Watch will make a special version of the series in September for academic purposes.

March against cement company in San Juan Sacatepéquez

In San Juan Sacatepéquez, during the ceremony celebrating the building of Cementos Progreso’s cement factory, about 10,000 people marched to protest its presence in their communities.  This construction plan has been in effect for 6 years, but not until now is the company beginning construction.

Increase in violence against women

The Group of Guatemalan Women found a 25% increase of violent deaths of women between the months of January and June, compared with the same time period last year.  This year, a total of 412 women were murdered.

Indigenous community asks for law regarding disappearances

Dozens of people from Huehuetenango had a meeting with members of the National Commission for the Search for Victims of Forced Disappearance and other Forms of Disappearance.  They asked for the approval of Law 35-90, which favors the search of victims of disappearances from the internal armed conflict.

News Update: July 2-July 10

Lawyers in Genocide Trial ask the Constitutional Court to make a decision and allow case to move forward

Both the prosecution and the defense asked the Constitutional Court to make a decision regarding the defense’s appeal about the decision issued by the Appeals Court on May 6th.  to reinstate Defense Attorney Francisco García Gudiel.

Hunger in the Polochic Valley

Representatives from the 14 indigenous communities that had been evicted from their homes in March of 2011 reported that among the  community members, 6 out of 10 children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, and two out of every 100 adults suffers from acute malnutrition.  Additionally, more than half of the population does not have access to health services. This data was gathered by the Ixim Rural Studies Collective, which also reported economic and social rights violations. President Otto Pérez Molina made a commitment that the 800 families that were displaced would receive land. He claimed that the first group of 300 families will receive their land by September 15th.

Three anti-mining activists arrested in San Juan Sacatepequez

The twelve communities in organized resistence to the cement plant and mine have denounced the arrest of three community leaders days after 12,000 people marched against Cementos Progreso. The three leaders were charged with illicit association.

Two-year moratorium for mining licenses

President Otto Pérez Molina announced that he, along with the Minister of Energy and Mines and the Secretary General, will present to Congress an initiative for a 2-year moratorium on issuing licenses for metal mining.  After declaring the moratorium, Congress should meet with all sectors to discuss the law on the mining of metals.  However, Tahoe, one of the mining companies, does not believe the moratorium will affect their progress.

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