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.

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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)

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 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. Continue reading

News Update: June 22-July 1

March in memory of disappeared victims of the Civil War

On June 30, the same day as National Army Day, HIJOS (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against Forgetting and Silence) held their fifth annual peaceful march in the Historic Center of Guatemala City. The roughly 500 protesters hold the army accountable for the 45,000 people that disappeared during the war.

Land rush for sugarcane leaves thousands without land

Due to the increasing demand of bio fuel throughout Europe and the US, sugarcane has become an increasingly popular crop. Because of this, many companies are buying up land in Guatemala that was once used by corn farmers. Since they cannot afford to match the rent offered by sugarcane companies, many small-scale farmers are being forced to move, which is what happened in the Polochic Valley in 2011. As of May, nearly 1 million people were involved in over 1,400 land disputes in Guatemala.

Increase in attacks against human rights defenders

According to the Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge de León Duque, there has been an increase in attacks, assassinations and threats against human rights defenders this year. Four have been assassinated and nearly 500 reports of aggression have been registered. Many believe that the increase has to do with the recent genocide trial of Ríos Montt because it raised the profile of human rights defenders on a national level.

Continue reading

Press release: La Puya in Nevada

June 26, 2013

Virginia City, NV— This Thursday, groups from Nevada and Guatemala will come together to highlight the damage that mining threatens to cause in both places.

The Comstock Residents Association, in partnership with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Great Basin Resource Watch, and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, will host Alvaro Sandoval Palencia, a representative from “La Puya” Guatemala. Together they will picket the annual shareholder’s meetings of Comstock Mining Incorporated (CMI) to highlight unethical mining practices carried out by CMI and related companies.

La Puya is a group of community activists from San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala, who have peacefully blocked the road which passes through their communities leading to the site of the proposed “El Tambor” mine. El Tambor is owned by a subsidiary of the Nevada based company, Kappes, Cassiday and Associates.

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We won’t let threats stop our work!

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The attack on GHRC a couple of weeks ago was a sharp reminder of what a dangerous time this is for human rights defenders in Guatemala. The messages of hate and violence posted on our Facebook page were echos of the slander and threats which our partners have suffered for months and even years.

Can you make a donation today to help us continue our work to protect human rights defenders?

In response to the attack, we received over 100 posts on our wall on Facebook expressing support for our work and for the survivors of genocide in Guatemala. These words, as well as numerous emails and phone calls, were an inspiring reminder of the strong and resilient network of activists we rely on. The messages we received were so heartwarming that I wanted to share some of them with you.

  “We stand in solidarity with the people of Guatemala, the brave judges and witnesses at the genocide trial and the dedicated human rights advocates at GHRC. God bless you and may your (and our) dream of human rights for all prevail!”

Continue reading

News Update: May 31-June 12

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.

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Civil Society Organizations Call for New Security Model, Demilitarization, Human Rights

(Antigua, June 6) More than 160 civil society organizations representing hundreds of thousands of citizens in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the United States, sent an open letter to the OAS General Assembly today calling for alternatives to the war on drugs that guarantee respect for human rights.

Our organizations have documented an alarming increase in violence and human rights violations. While we recognize that transnational crime and drug-trafficking play a role in this violence, we call on our governments to acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region,” the letter states.

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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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