Adding muscle to the Guatemalan military?

 

Military bases opened in Guatemala in 2012 (elperiodico.com.gt)

Military bases opened in Guatemala in 2012 (elperiodico.com.gt)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel heads to Guatemala this week to “add muscle and sinew” to defense ties between that country and the United States and highlight the importance of helping partner nations improve their militaries. However, a recently released United Nations 2013 Global Study on Homicide offered alternative methods of combating the violence plaguing Guatemala.

Besides Hagel’s trip, Guatemala has received various high level visits from US officials over the last several months focused on security cooperation, including General John Kelly, head of US Southern Command, and Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield. The increased attention has corresponded with an increase in security assistance as well. Guatemala jumped to the third highest country recipient of Department of Defense military and police aid in Latin America in 2012. The US State Department has also provided significant funding to a joint task force on Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico, and has donated 42 vehicles to a recently announced base on Guatemala’s southern border with Honduras.

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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! Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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

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. Continue reading

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