Guatemala News Update: August 11-15

Agreement to construct hydroelectric project leads to violent eviction

An agreement signed between the mining company Hidro Santa Rita and President Otto Pérez Molina on July 30 resulted in a violent eviction in Monte Olivo, Cobán, Alta Verapaz. As a result of the eviction and subsequent protests, 24 people were arrested, six police officers injured, and three people died. There was reportedly no consultation with the communities that would be affected by the project’s installation.

Another Goldcorp crime is exposed

An interview with a woman by the alias of “Doña A” recounts the alleged 2009 murder of her husband by employees of the Marlin Mine in Northwest Guatemala. Her husband informed neighboring communities about the negative effects the mine would have and also helped organize a community referendum. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: July 28-August 1

Another threat to the peaceful resistance of La Puya

At 2 a.m. on July 31 in San José del Golfo, employees of Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) and Mining Explorations of Guatemala (EXMINGUA) tried to enter the El Tambor mining site, destroying spaces the San José del Golfo community had been using for cooking, meetings, and celebrations in the process. The workers were trying to move three vans and heavy equipment used for washing minerals onto the site, and at 8:24 am were joined by 200 police officers who threatened the residents of San José del Golfo with eviction if they did not allow the workers to enter the site. The peaceful resistance of La Puya eventually withdrew without using force around 11 a.m. and let the machinery pass onto the site to avoid violence.

Guatemalan Court rules in favor of Sipacapa residents against Goldcorp subsidiary

On March 24 the Mayan Council of Sipacapa demanded that the “Los Chocoyos” mining permit, which was granted to the Goldcorp Inc. subsidiary Entre Mares de Guatemala S.A. by the General Director of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, be canceled. Last Friday, July 18, a Guatemalan court ruled in favor of the residents of Sipacapa and declared that the Guatemalan government must consult with the local population before granting any kind of mining permits, in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and ILO 169. Continue reading

GHRC participates in TASSC Annual Survivors’ Week

TASSC-buttonMembers of the GHRC team were honored to attend the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) 17th Annual Survivors’ Week last month. The event provided an opportunity to stand in solidarity with TASSC’s mission to end torture as well as to empower survivors of torture.

Sister Dianna Ortiz, a survivor of torture in Guatemala, originally started TASSC as a GHRC program in 1998. TASSC has since expanded to become an independent organization that carries out impressive advocacy and assistance work. In the words of one survivor, “I arrived in the United States less than 10 months ago and TASSC has provided me with so much support. I would never have imagined that I would be meeting with a member of the United States government to tell my story and advocate on behalf of survivors.”

The TASSC Survivors’ Week week consisted of presentations, testimony from torture survivors, advocacy outreach on Capitol Hill (including 26 congressional meetings), and a concluding vigil in front of the White House.

At the Opening Session, GHRC team members and 115 other participants learned more about addressing torture worldwide. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, warned that impunity is the greatest enemy of the anti-torture movement and serves as an invitation for torture to continue. He also explained that while torture and genocide conventions emphasize the prevention of torture, they frequently do not give specific recommendations. Thus, it is important to remember that it is the individual state that holds the most responsibility in implementing prevention mechanisms. Méndez also discussed how reparations themselves are not enough; survivors need to be given a part in creating their own rehabilitation programs.

Speakers also presented on inhumane immigration detention policies here in the US. Yohanes Birhane, of TASSC, described the ways in which Border Patrol facilities employ methods of psychological torture against individuals apprehended after entering the US irregularly. Detainees are often placed in “ice boxes” — very cold rooms with no amenities — and frequently sleep on the floor, have no access to a shower, have limited access to toilet paper and sanitary items, are denied adequate food and may face other degradations. Border patrol personnel frequently tell detainees that they will only be allowed to leave if they sign expedited removal papers that may be provided in English only. While many individuals have suffered these conditions, survivors are reluctant to give testimony because they fear that to do so may impact their legal status. Birhane therefore appealed to American citizens to advocate on behalf of detainees and to support S1817 and HR3130, two bills that address degrading treatment at the border.

More information about TASSC is available here.

 

Guatemala News Update June 29 – July 3

Guatemalan officials visit the US

This week Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, along with other Central American officials, spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry regarding their concerns for the unaccompanied minors arriving in the US. President Molina reportedly said there can be no unilateral decisions—that all the countries must work together—and Guatemalan ambassador Julio Ligorría added that the officials must also work to address the root causes of migration.

Guatemala’s First Lady, Rosa Leal, wife of President Otto Pérez Molina, also visited border patrol stations this week in Tucson and Nogales.

In addition, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Oscar Padilla, visited a military base in California where unaccompanied minor migrants are being held. He reportedly spoke to them about the dangers of traveling from Guatemala to the US unaccompanied, such as sexual assault, labor exploitation, and even death. Padilla said the conditions the children are being held under are “very good, the facilities are well distributed so the minors can receive very good care.”

Unaccompanied minor found dead

The body of 15-year-old Gilberto Ramos was found in brush in La Joya, Texas on Monday, June 30. Originally from San Jose Las Flores, Huehuetenango, his mother said that his motive for migrating to the US was to earn money to pay for her epilepsy treatment. He was accompanied by a coyote who charged the family $5,400—a portion of which they still owe. Once Gilberto reached Texas he reportedly phoned home to have his parents deposit an installment of the payment and it is presumed that shortly after the coyote abandoned him and he died of heat exposure.

Guatemalan Commission on Migrants declared to be in permanent session

The Legislative Commission on Migrants declared itself in permanent session to discuss the current migration situation and create public policy that favors migrants.

Public Ministry asks that ex-guerrilla Solano Barillas get 690 years in prison

The Guatemalan Public Ministry is asking that Fermín Felipe Solano Barillas be sentenced to 690 years in prison for his role in the El Aguacate Massacre. His trial is the first ever to hold a guerrilla accountable for a massacre perpetrated during the internal armed conflict.

Network of former soldiers has strong presence in Guatemalan government

Security experts are noting the reformation of military circles in various Guatemalan institutions and are arguing that the President’s affiliation with the military has opened the doors for retired soldiers to hold important positions in government and other institutions. For example, the current Interior Minister of Guatemala, Mauricio López Bonilla, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel.

March in protest of National Army Day

About 500 human rights activists and indigenous peoples marched in Guatemala City to reject the commemoration of National Army Day. The rejection was in remembrance of the human rights atrocities committed by the Guatemalan Army during the internal armed conflict, and participants also called for the reinstatement of Efraín Ríos Montt’s 80-year genocide sentence.

Complaint filed against Hidralia Energia

On June 27 a complaint was filed by various indigenous organizations to the Human Rights Ombudsman denouncing the occupation of ancestral land without consent, threats, the use of landmines, serious gunshot injuries to two people, the illegal detention of at least 17 people, and more, that were committed by Hidralia Energia. The organizations argue that Spain, the owner of the hydroelectric project, should be held responsible for funding the project without requiring prior consultation with the communities that would be affected.

Guatemala News Update: June 16-20

Lawsuit filed against Tahoe Resources

A lawsuit is being filed against Tahoe Resources in relation to the violence that occurred during a 2013 peaceful protest at the Escobal silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores. The mine’s security guards are being accused by seven Guatemalans of attacking them and critically injuring Luis Fernando García Monroy after shooting him three times, once in the face. The lawsuit also accuses Tahoe’s Chief of Security in Guatemala, Alberto Rotondo, of various crimes, including ordering the attack on the peaceful protestors, fabricating a story that the demonstrators attacked mine employees, and arranging the tampering of evidence. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 9-13

Community opposition to Xalalá Dam

On June 7, 500 local leaders rejected the authorization of project feasibility studies for the Xalalá hydroelectric project. Cristian Otzín, lawyer for the communities, has announced that they will present a legal challenge to the project based on the failure to respect the process of prior consent, failure to respect the right to life, and anomalies in the project contract.

In a meeting with President Molina, the Executive Council of the Guatemalan Confederation of Cooperative Federations (Confecoop) expressed their interest in investing in the Xalalá dam, as long as the surrounding communities approve and want to be involved. Government officials and Confecoop will meet again in six months to evaluate the project’s development.

In related news, local residents removed a roadblock they had maintained since Monday to protest the construction of a hydroelectric project in their community of Camotán, Chiquimula. Continue reading

Holiday News Round-Up

Happy New Year everyone! We hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are looking forward to an exciting new year. The GHRC news briefs are starting up again with the following summary covering some of the more significant and important stories from the previous week, bringing us all up to speed on current events in Guatemala.

National News

  • Rubén Herrera, a Guatemalan notary and lawyer, has been appointed by Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz as the new Special Attorney against Impunity (FECI), which is responsible for expediting cases of high impact and advancing the fight against impunity in Guatemala.
  • According to statistics released by the National Institute of Forensic Science (Inacif), Guatemala suffered an average of 17 violent deaths per day in 2011, with a total of 6,187 assassinations.  Even though these numbers represent a 7.4% reduction in violent deaths from 2010, those that occurred in 2011 were performed with more brutality and cruelty.  The Minister of the Interior has indicated that over 60% of assassinations in Guatemala are related to drug cartels, gangs and organized crime groups.  The PNC reports different statistics, with 5,618 homicides in 2011 and an average of 15.5 per day.  Central American Politics also covers the release of the homicide rates.

International News

  • HablaGuate blog has published an interview with Jean-Marie Simon, author of the book, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny, recently republished in Spanish. Listen here.

Weekly News Round-Up

Weekly Round-Up: 12/11 – 12/16

National News

  • President-elect Pérez Molina met with Mexican President Felipe Calderón yesterday to discuss their collaboration on a variety of issues.  In a press conference following the meeting, Pérez Molina reported that they had discussed several issues, including the creation of a civil intelligence platform to share information regarding the organized crime and narco-trafficking and a possible ‘consular pass’ that would allow Guatemalan immigrants to travel through Mexico without a visa.
  • Fifty more names have been added to the list of those accused of violent actsduring their supposed involvement with the leftist guerilla movement of Guatemala’s armed conflict.  Theodore Michael Plocharski, a Guatemalan citizen responsible for the accusations, is claiming that the accused were involved in the kidnapping, torture and assassination of eight diplomats.  The list includes human rights defenders and social activists Sandra Torres Casanova, Orlando Blanco and Marielos Monzón.
  • In an interview with ElPeriodico, Theodore Plocharski comments on his motives for accusing over 50 people with links to the assassination of diplomatsand association with the leftist guerilla movements during the armed conflict.  Plocharski said he wants the truth to be heard and justice to be served and argued that it is time the Attorney General investigates crimes committed by the guerrillas as well as the military.  He also commented that he is not necessarily proposing legal action against the individuals on the list, but rather against the guerilla entities—ORPA, EGP, PGT and FAR.

    Michael Plocharski, denunciante. (Foto Prensa Libre: Erick Avila)

International News

Weekly News Round-Up

National News

International News

Weekly News Round-Up

National News

  • Presidential candidates Manuel Baldizón (Lider) and Otto Perez Molina (PP) will officially close their political campaigns today in preparation for Sunday’s final election.  The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) also held its final meeting yesterday and will finish distributing voting materials by the end of the day.  According to a public poll, OPM is the clear leader, 17 points ahead of Baldizón.
  • While the PP and Líder parties both agree that security will be a top priority if elected, they disagree on how to go about tackling the issue and neither has proposed clear explanations of their plans or where they will get the funding to implement their vague goals.  Proposals in the form of sweeping generalizations seem to be the trend, with Siglo21 also reporting on a lack of substance in both candidates’ social programs initiatives.
  • According to elPeriodico, the incoming president must be prepared to face a nation in dire economic conditions, with the lowest tax revenue on the continent, high rates of unemployment, poorly maintained highways, and a floating debt.  Tax revenue in Guatemala represents only 10.8 percent of Gross National Product (GDP) and an increasing majority of the economically active population is part of the informal labor sector, avoiding tax payments to the state.
  • On Tuesday, two men identified as the president and vice president of the illegal paramilitary force in Panajachel, Sololá were detained by the Civil National Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.  The paramilitary group of “hooded men” in Panajanchel on the shores of Lake Atitlan is responsible for dozens of beatings, illegal detentions, torture, three lynchings and forced disappearances over the past several months.  One of the men detained, Juan Manuel Ralón Solórzano, recently participated in the September elections for mayor as a candidate for the National Advance Party (PAN) and has been accused of using money from narco-trafficking to fund his campaign, as confirmed by a U.S. Embassy Wikileaks cable– 09GUATEMALA1025.  In connection with the case, Guatemalan journalist Lucia Escobar of elPeriodico was threatened after publishing a story linking the members of the local paramilitary force to the disappearance of a resident.  She has since fled the western city of Panajachel.

International News

  • According to Bloomberg, Perez Molina is leading the polls by 10 percentage points and will very likely win the election on Sunday, with more than 80% of the population supporting a hard-line stance on organized crime and drug-related violence.  The article analyzes the potential threat of bringing the military back into the forefront of Guatemalan politics, citing the armed conflict and OPM’s sketchy background as powerful warning signs.
  • According to data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. has seen a record 400,000 deportations this year, partly due to a 42% increase in felony persecutions for immigration crimes, with Hispanics now the majority group being sent to federal prison.  The Obama administration has been cracking down on ‘criminal aliens,’ further contributing to a climate of fear among the immigrant population in the U.S. and raising concerns about increased poverty among Hispanics, high unemployment, and poor academic performance.  The crackdown could also be contributing to the increasingly negative discourse used to talk about immigrants and Latinos living in the U.S.
  • After almost a week of medical tests Guatemalan medical experts declared that former dictator Oscar Mejia Victores is too sick to stand trial for genocide and war crimes.  Mejia was captured and accused on October 10th for war crimes and genocide for the massacres of indigenous communities recorded during the armed conflict between 1982 and 1984.  His defense attorney now pleads Mejia is unable to face a criminal trial and the case must be discontinued and closed.