Guatemala News Update: March 31 – April 4

Say “No!” to U.S. funds for the Guatemalan Army

Upside Down World publicized the call from us at GHRC and our partners at NISGUA for the US government to maintain restrictions on funding to the Guatemalan Army, as Guatemala has not complied with conditions laid out in the 2014 US Appropriations Law.

Click here to sign our petition!

Activist Makrina Gudiel calls on students for solidarity during GHRC Speaker’s Tour 

During the GHRC Spring 2014 Speaker’s Tour, Guatemalan Activist Makrina Gudiel and GHRC Assistant Director Kathryn Johnson are speaking to students and community members at various locations along the East Coast. This article details Makrina’s presentations in Dartmouth and New Bedford, MA, where she outlined her struggle during the armed conflict in Guatemala and her fight to bring her brother’s and father’s deaths to justice. For the full Speaker’s Tour schedule, click here.

CICIG to investigate corruption in the judicial system

CICIG Spokesman Diego Alvarez confirmed that an investigation into the existence of links between criminal organizations and the judicial system is key. He noted that the investigation may be difficult, since certain individuals favor impunity.

Motives of suicide of Judge Barrientos questioned

Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice and human rights defender César Ricardo Crisóstomo Barrientos Pellecer committed suicide one month ago. An investigation suggest that the details surrounding his death relate to the pressure he was facing regarding his work in the judicial system. CICIG chief Iván Velásquez, who worked closely with Barrientos not long before his death, noted that Barrientos was primarily  concerned with judicial corruption and the need for action with respect to those facing a high risk of danger. Barrientos reported several incidents — including threatening phone calls, petitions to have him resign, damages to his mother’s grave and bullet holes in his car — that went unanswered.

New case regarding violence against women brought to Inter-American Court

Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz disappeared and was murdered in 2005. Ten years later, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hear the case regarding the Guatemalan government’s failure to investigate the crime. This hearing will question Guatemala’s policies of discrimination and violence against women.

Guatemalan government creates Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Diversity

In response to claims that Guatemala has failed to comply with the Agreement on Indigenous Rights, Guatemala has created the Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Diversity, which will last for a period of 10 years. President Pérez Molina will preside over the cabinet, which was created to comply with the state’s promise to contribute to the construction of equality and unity among various ethnic groups in the country, which make up 42 percent of the population.

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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Victory in the US Congress: Reparations for the Chixoy Dam and the Military Ban

32 years ago today, 177 women and children were brutally murdered in Pokoxom during a series of state-ordered massacres which left a death toll of 444 Maya Achi people. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA expresses support for the survivors of the community of Rio Negro, who lived through brutal violence committed as part of the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam.

On January 16th, after a protracted battle, the US Congress passed a consolidated appropriations bill for 2014. The bill includes various restrictions on funding from the US Department of State (DOS) to Guatemala’s armed forces — a clear, if partial, victory against impunity and militarization.

Reparations for the Chixoy Dam

Chixoy dam

The Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam Reservoir. Photo by James Rodríguez.

The restriction that has received the most attention in Guatemalan news relates to reparations to 33 communities impacted by the construction of the Chixoy Dam in the early 1980s. Members of these communities, including survivors of the gruesome Rio Negro massacres, have waited for over 30 years for compensation and recognition of the injustice and abuse they suffered. The legislation bars the Guatemalan army from receiving funding under the Act until DOS certifies that Guatemala is taking credible steps to implement the Reparations Plan which the Guatemalan government signed in 2010, but never implemented.

In February, the organization representing the 33 communities affected by the dam — Adivima — released a statement criticizing the lack of progress in the implementation of the Reparations Plan. Adivima reported that, in the month after the bill was passed, the communities were neither approached by the government, the World Bank or IDB, nor were they informed of any concrete steps taken by the government to address the issue.

GHRC and partners are calling on the US Government to seek input from the communities as part of the evaluation process the bill requires. The US Appropriations Law creates a historic opportunity to finally compensate the communities that lost their homes and hundreds of loved ones, but if they are locked out of the process, we risk re-victimizing the very communities the law is meant to support.

The Military Ban

The bill contains another restriction, which has been largely ignored, related to ongoing and past human rights abuses committed by the Guatemalan Army. The language accompanying the bill bars DOS from granting funds from the Foreign Military Financing Program to the army until the Secretary of State certifies that the army is meeting certain conditions. The restriction is narrow, and still allows funding under this program to the rest of Guatemala’s armed forces.

That doesn’t mean that the restriction isn’t significant, though, or that it isn’t a thorn in the side of the Guatemalan government. When the current Guatemalan Ambassador to the US took over his post, he publicly stated that his number one priority was the removal of this very condition. Why does it matter so much to the Guatemalan government, when there’s a relatively small amount of money at stake?

The conditions state that to receive these funds, the Guatemalan Army has to:

1) Have a narrowly defined mission focused on border security and external threats, and a credible plan to end the army’s involvement in internal law enforcement;

2) Cooperate with civilian investigations and prosecutions of human rights cases involving current and retired military officers;

3) Publicly disclose all military archival documents relating to the internal armed conflict in a timely manner in response to requests by civilian judicial authorities.

What the bill is implicitly saying is that the Appropriations Committees believe that the Guatemalan Army currently doesn’t meet these criteria, and that’s the rub.

On the first point, Guatemala is clearly and unapologetically moving in the opposite direction. Under President Pérez Molina’s leadership, the Guatemalan army has been consistently deployed to carry out tasks that would normally fall to the police; soldiers have been stationed in various parts of the capitol to combat crime and insecurity, checkpoints were set up on highways across the country, and several army bases have opened in parts of the interior. In addition, the current government has imposed a form of martial law 13 times, putting the army in temporary control of the population.

The Guatemalan government has also taken steps backward on the disclosure of military documents. In January of 2013, the Defense Ministry classified documents from 1982 requested by the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office claiming that the information is still current and could endanger national security. There is also fear that many documents from the internal armed conflict were destroyed or remain hidden, despite a heavily publicized declassification process which began in 2011. In the archive created, which is supposed to cover the entire 36 year civil war in Guatemala, there are only 12,200 documents. By comparison, Guatemala’s police archive contains 80 million.

With the passage of the Appropriations Bill, it now falls to DOS to keep the pressure on Guatemala, and not just act as a rubber stamp. In other cases, like those of Colombia and Honduras, DOS has certified that those countries’ governments were abiding by Appropriations Committee imposed conditions despite abundant evidence presented to the contrary. Hopefully Congress will oversee the process this year so the conditions have a real impact on human rights in Guatemala.

In response to the bill a defiant President Pérez Molina stated, “We’re not anyone’s game. We’re going to do what we need to do.” He also singled out one Appropriations Committee Aide in particular as responsible for the bill. The President claimed that this aide “thinks he owns Guatemala just because he’s an aide to a senator.”

Senator Leahy, Chair of the Appropriations Committee responded by pointing out that the committee had authorized close to $100 million for Guatemala for this year. He also wrote, “Instead of blaming a member of the US Congress, Guatemalan authorities should comply with their responsibilities…”

Senator Leahy, with the help of his staff, has been a stalwart advocate for human rights and the rule of law in Guatemala for over a decade, using his position as the head of this powerful committee to keep US funds from supporting repressive policies. It’s little wonder that the Pérez Molina administration resents his efforts.

Ultimately, though, it will be up to the people of the US to guarantee that this law truly offers Guatemala incentive to change. The conditions are not a way for the US to insert itself in Guatemala’s internal affairs, but instead a tool for citizens to ensure that we’re not exacerbating an already explosive human rights situation, and instead supporting the ongoing struggle for justice.

News Update: August 20-30

Two boys killed in Monte Olivo

13 year old Ageo Isaac Garcia died on Tuesday after being moved to Guatemala City in critical condition. His brother, David Estudardo Pacay Maaz, died on Monday after struggling to survive for more than 72 hours. The shooting of the two boys is allegedly related to an attempt to kidnap David Chen from the community of Monte Olivo. An alleged employee of the Santa Rita Company, which wants to build a hydroelectric dam in the Dolores River, asked the children about Chen’s whereabouts. Since the children refused to tell him anything, the employee allegedly shot them.

IACHR Special Rapporteur visits Polochic

Dinah Shelton, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the Inter American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) visited two of the communities evicted two years ago in the Polochic Valley. Accompanying her was Kelsey Alford-Jones of GHRC who assured that her organization would monitor the handover of land to 158 families, which the Guatemalan Government has promised would be carried out on September 14th. Shelton also interviewed communities in Totonicapán, Huehuetenango and San Marcos. The IACHR will be publishing a report covering indigenous peoples in Guatemala and their struggle for land, natural resources, and consultation.

Case against Canadian mining company will move forward to trial

A surprise came in the Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc. case when the mining company opted not to appeal the Ontario Superior Court’s decision to try the case in Canada. The plaintiffs are suing over an alleged gang rape, a shooting and the killing of a community leader from El Estor. The next stage in the case will be the discovery process.

New developments arise in Barillas case

On August 27, eight community leaders of Santa Cruz Barillas went to the Tribunals Tower in an effort to close the case against them which had resulted in their eight months of illegal detention. During this visit, Rogelio Velásquez and Saúl Méndez were again detained on an arrest warrant regarding a murder from 2011. The trial for the assassination of community leader Andrés Pedro Miguel on May 1, 2012 is also coming to a close as both sides have presented witnesses this week.

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News Update: July 25-August 19

International lawyers visit Guatemala to obtain information about the Rios Montt Trial

The New York City Bar Association sent 10 lawyers from the United States, Chile, Peru and Bolivia to travel to Guatemala to meet with individuals and organizations involved in the Rios Montt Trial.  The purpose of this delegation was to learn more about the case and to assess the implications for the rule of law and the adherence to proper judicial procedures.  One of the lawyers, Hunter Carter, indicated that the companies that want to invest long-term in a country seek one that has a strong judicial system.  Another lawyer said that a conviction for genocide would prove that the Guatemalan government is capable of resolving its problems of the past. The lawyers will later present a report with conclusions and recommendations.

Journalist shot in Guatemala

Journalist Fredy Rodas, who works for Sonora Es La Noticia radio and is a collaborator with several other media outlets, was shot at least three times as he was going home in the city of Mazatenango. He had previously received a threat on the telephone.

The man accused of the attack against Rodas has now been captured by Guatemalan Security forces.  The man they captured is Marvin Cruz Ordonez, who is 19 years old.

Because of the attack, members of the Guatemalan Journalist Association complained about the situation of insecurity and violence toward journalists.  The representatives of the Association requested that President Otto Perez Molina give an interview to present the cases of journalists that have been killed and attacked.  UNESCO also expresses its concerns for journalists in Guatemala.

Udefegua reported reported that between January 1st and August 15th of this year, there have been 19 registered cases of attacks against journalists, which is a total of 6 more cases than those registered in all of 2012.

San Rafael mining license suspension not taken seriously

After the decision was made to suspend the mining license in San Rafael, the company Tahoe seems unconcerned. Mine spokesman Andrés Dávila denied that the mining license was actually cancelled and claims that they will continue working on the mine.

More woman and indigenous people should participate in elections

During a forum about reforms to the Law of Postulation Commissions, Alberto Brunori, Guatemala’s representative for the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, emphasized the importance of increasing participation of women and indigenous people in the elections of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the head of the Attorney General.

Indigenous people ask for Community Media Law enforcement

The Wakib’ Kej Convergence demanded that the Guatemalan Government implement the initiative 4087, also known as the Community Media Law, which guarantees indigenous communities access to expression, as it was established in the Peace Accords.

Trial opens against the workers of Hidro Santa Cruz

An oral debate against the workers of Hidro Santa Cruz in Barillas has begun.  The workers Ricardo García López y Armando Ortíz Solares are accused of homicide and serious injuries for a deadly attack carried out against opponents of a dam in May 2012.

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

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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News Update: May 3-22

Genocide Trial Update:  

Ríos Montt Genocide Ruling Overturned

On the evening of May 20th, the historic May 10th ruling that convicted former General Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide was overturned.  The Constitutional Court met to rule on a constitutional challenged raised by Ríos Montt’s defense attorneys at the very end of the trial. The 3-2 ruling in favor of the challenge sets the case back to April 19th, at which point all testimonies had been heard. However, while the annulment does not include the testimonies, it remains unclear whether the trial will be reconvened or repeated altogether.

Overturned Ruling Was Laden With Opposition

Challenges to the conviction do not come as a surprise. Since the trial’s conclusion, business and hard-line military supporters have issued numerous statements calling for its annulment. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Finance (CACIF) stated in a press release that the trial was illegal, that “justice had been prey to ideological conflict,” and the conviction of genocide was “an opinion of the court that we did not share.” Ríos Montt supporters have organized demonstrations protesting his conviction. Moreover, presidential spokesman Francisco Cuevas criticized the international community for “driving the polarization” of Guatemalans following the trial. He also claimed that foreign interference from NGOs in the trial court proceedings ultimately influenced the landmark genocide verdict.

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Weekly News Round Up

Updates on the Genocide Trial:
The trial of Efraín Ríos Mont and José Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity on August 14th of this year. Rodríguez Sánchez’s defense filed an injunction against the decision by Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez to send the former military leader to trial. According to Rodríguez Sánchez’s lawyer, Gálvez did not explain the reasons for open debate against his client. Ríos Montt’s defense has now filed a similar legal action in which he claims that the crime he is being charged with does not exist in the legal code. Ríos Montt has also objected to the fact that Judge Patricia Flores is presiding over his appeal to the Court of Constitutionality. His lawyers claim that Flores is unfit to hear his case because she was recused from the proceedings against Héctor Mario López Fuentes, also accused of genocide.

International Crisis Group warns against use of military in maintaining public order
In a recent report featuring the October incident in Totonicapán, the ICG warned about the dangers of using the military to maintain public order in the country, especially where marches and social protests are concerned. Mary Speck, an analyst from ICG, observed that tensions are higher in indigenous areas where issues of mining, access to land, electricity and education have been prominent. She pointed out that these conditions have made the creation of trained civil security forces all the more urgent. The civil security forces should be used to confront protests without the use of violence.

Xincas oppose mining activity
Xinca communities and organizations demanded an end to the licensing of mining projects  in their territory in Santa Rosa, Jutiapa because of environmental damage. Juan Pablo López, director of the Coordinating Council of the Xinka People asked that the Environmenal Ministry consult with the indigenous communities before releasing a decision on environmental impact studies. López says that the San Rafael Las Flores mining company contaminates more than 6 million liters of water in the area daily.

Mayor of San Juan Sacatepéquez denounces opposition to well
Oscar Fernando Bracamonte, mayor of San Juan Sacatepéquez, denounced what he called “illegal groups” that he claims have held the people of San Antonio Las Trojes hostage in their opposition to the installation of a mechanical well. He placed the blame on Daniel Pascual and the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) for fomenting violence and dividing the people of San Juan. Pascual countered by saying that Bracamontes’ comments were irresponsible and added that the CUC does not have any bases in that municipality.

Human Rights Ombudsman investigating 28 cases of forced disappearance
The cases involve 70 people who disappeared during the internal armed conflict.The investigation has been ordered by the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ). According to Jorge de León Duque, Human Rights Ombudsman, the cases are expected to move forward slowly because the courts are backlogged.

Fellowship of Reconciliation analyzes DOD contracts in Latin America with a focus on Guatemala
According to the report, Department of Defense contracts in Guatemala have more than doubled since 2010. The ban on most State Department-channeled military aid to the army is still in effect but this ban does not apply to Defense Department assistance. The $14 million in contracts in 2012 amounts to more than seven times the total in 2009.

Suspension of construction in Santa Cruz Barillas requested
A group from of about 100 people from the town of Barillas took to the local government offices on February 7th to demand an answer to a request sent last month to local leaders. The petition was read aloud from the balcony of city hall. The municipal leader assured the people that he had never signed any construction permits for the Hidro Santa Cruz company. The crowd then read out an act signed by the municipal leader and city clerk in December authorizing construction. The leader then assured the crowd that that document had been suspended and had no effect. A discussion between the local leaders and community resulted in the signing of an agreement wherein the civil society and the local council requested that the hydroelectric company suspend construction. The signing of this document is being hailed as a victory for the town of Barillas.

Intermediate phase hearing for massacre at Totonicapán begins
The intermediate phase hearing in the case of the massacre at Totonicapán began on Friday, February 8th. The purpose of the hearing is to try the nine soldiers accused of crimes of extrajudicial execution so that a formal indictment may be made by the public prosecutor and a public debate can begin. One of the accused soldiers, Colonel Juan Chiroy, argues that the villagers he fired on were armed and had injured the soldiers. The prosecutors objected to this testimony, showing evidence that the injuries received by the military were mild. The defense is claiming that the soldiers were provoked and that the demonstrations were not peaceful. The prosecution claimed that Chiroy did not heed the warning by his subordinates that the situation was under control and instead ordered them to exit the vehicles they were traveling in.

Weekly News Roundup

April 27th- May 3rd

  • Human rights organizations protest against Canadian mining company. On April 27th a group of thirty activists of human rights organizations protested Goldcorp’s mining operations in Toronto while the company was holding its Annual General Meeting in Timmins, Ontario. The protesters hoped to raise awareness of the company’s human rights abuses and environmental violations. The mine has been criticized locally and internationally for contaminating water sources; condoning intimidation, threats and attacks against community members; disregarding community referendums and international regulations, among other abuses.
  • Thousands of workers participate in International Workers’ Day marches on May 1st. Echoing the demands of previous campesino and union marches this month, the International Workers’ Day marchers demanded an end to militarization and exploitative mining projects and criticized the decision by Congress to freeze further dialogue concerning the rural development law. They also asked for higher salaries and an end to high levels of impunity. According to Carlos Contreras, Guatemala’s Employment Minister, seven out of ten companies violate labor rights. In the first months of 2012 more than 4,000 complaints of labor violations have been sent to the Department of Labor.
  • Guatemala declares state of siege in Huehuetenango on May 1st. Interior Secretary Mauricio Lopez Bonilla sent a contingent of 100 military and 160 police forces to Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango to “restore order” after a group of 200 men armed with machetes and guns took over a military base in the area. Security forces arrested nine men involved in the mob after the declaration of the siege. That same afternoon, one community member was assassinated, and two others injured, in attacks by armed men with apparent links to the companyThe village of Santa Cruz Barillas has outspokenly protested against the construction of the hydroelectric company and denounced the lack of consultation. The community is calling for a suspension of the company’s license.  According to Interior Secretary Mauricio Lopez Bonilla the riots were started by a group of intoxicated men who had been celebrating the La Cruz festival. President Perez Molina justified the state of siege on the grounds that the rioters were accomplices of drug traffickers. Human rights and peasant organizations repudiate the state of siege.
  • Former police officer to stand trial for his involvement in Spanish Embassy fire in 1980. On the day of the fire, January 31st 1980, the Embassy was stormed by indigenous protestors who wanted to inform the world about human rights abuses committed during the internal armed conflict. Former police officer Pedro Garcia Arredondo is accused of keeping firefighters from extinguishing the fire and ignoring the ambassador’s plead to withdraw his forces.
  • 5,708 remains of victims of the internal armed conflict unearthed. Juan de Dios Garcia, representative of Adivima, confirms that the exhumation of victims’ remains helps to push the Public Prosecutor’s Office to move forward with their investigations of the massacres, and to bring justice to the victims and their families. He also mentions that finding the remains of the disappeared gives family members the peace of mind to know where their loved ones are and enables them to carry out a proper burial in keeping with cultural traditions.
  • Candidates for the position of the Human Rights Ombudsman summoned to hearing. Candidates were asked to respond to questions and concerns from civil society groups. Most questions were directed towards the current Ombudsman Sergio Morales. The next step in the election process will be a forum discussion to be held May 11. Civil society organization released a public call to the Congressional Commission for Human Rights asking for an evaluation of the immediate necessities of the Office of the Ombudsman to strengthen the institution. With regards to the election of the Ombudsman, they recommend considering candidates whose defense of human rights, academic background, honesty and impartiality have sustained national and international acclaim.