Guatemala News Update: April 14-18

La Puya protesters continue fighting, despite police intimidation


Community members at La Puya

Last week, members of the army and the police (PNC) visited San Jose de Golfo to try to break the La Puya resistance movement so that the mining company, KCA, could continue construction of the El Tambor mine that would severely contaminate the community’s water supply. The protesters believe President Otto Perez Molina is directly involved in the deployment of troops and police. A KCA spokesman denied contacting the PNC, but confirmed that he had been in communication with the Pérez Molina administration.

Support La Puya by asking KCA CEO Dan Kappes and the Ministry of the Interior in Guatemala to respect the rights of community members.

Students march against corruption and insecurity

Hundreds of San Carlos University (Usac) students gathered to march in protest of the rampant corruption and insecurity that plagues Guatemala on Friday. Various departments of the university participated, the majority centering their attention on the index of violence in the country, which stands at 16 homicides per day. In addition, in anticipation of Semana Santa, which in 2013 included 96 murders, the PNC is stepping up its forces again.

UN expresses concern for Judge Barrios suspension

The UN responded to the one-year suspension of Judge Barrios, voicing concern about Guatemala’s justice system. The International Commission of Jurists (CIJ) also spoke out against the “pact of impunity” in Guatemala that stands as an obstacle to judging gross human rights violations committed during the 30-year civil war.

GHRC and other international organizations also released a statement criticizing the suspension of Judge Barrios.

New president named to Constitutional Court

Judge Roberto Molina Barreto took on the role of president of the CC yesterday for the 2014-2015 period. Among his upcoming responsibilities will be choosing the next attorney general and the judges for the Supreme Court. Molina Barreto commented that there has been no interference in recent decisions such as the Rios Montt genocide case or the term of Claudia Paz y Paz. He also noted the necessity of reform in the judicial sector.

 Guatemalan President pleads for reelection

President Otto Pérez Molina expressed support for the possibility of reelection in Guatemala. He claimed that Guatemala has “the worst system,” and that four years are too few to effectively govern. Aristides Crespo, the head of congress, voiced his support for reelection as well, at least for the incumbents. However, there are no current plans to change the constitution in regard to the elections.

Task Force to combat crime announced 

The Guatemalan government announced its plan to “prevent, combat, dismantle and eradicate criminal actions,” specifically in areas near the Honduran border. Modeled after a similar task force in San Marcos along the Mexican border, the plan, called Fuerza de Tarea Interinstitucional Chortí (Chortí Interagency Task Force), will aim to strengthen security along the border. The “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to a recent UNODC report, has the highest murder rate in the world.

Guatemala News Update: February 10-14

Representatives from international organizations (including GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones, second from right) express concerns about the reduction of Attorney General Paz y Paz's term at a press conference in Guatemala City.

Representatives from international organizations (including GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones, second from right) express concerns about the reduction of Attorney General Paz y Paz’s term at a press conference in Guatemala City.

GHRC and other international organizations call for transparency in election of new attorney general

On Wednesday, GHRC and other international organizations called for transparency in the election of a new attorney general, after the ruling that Claudia Paz y Paz will end her term this May. The organizations’ spokespeople stated that transparency in this process will help ensure that the right person gets the job. GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones noted that the process should include people from all sectors of society. Read our blog about the press conference for more information.

Assistant Secretary Brownfield visits Guatemala

The Assistant Secretary of State for International Issues on Drugs and Security met with top officials including Iván Velázquez, head of CICIG, on Monday. Brownfield announced that the U.S. will give 5 to 10 million dollars to fight drug trafficking and that the countries will work together under the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). He affirmed that the U.S. and Guatemala are “partners,” despite recent controversial events including the conditions imposed by the U.S. Appropriations Act and the shortening of Paz y Paz’s term in office.

Pérez Molina administration continues to protest against Appropriations Act

In statements released this week, President Otto Pérez Molina criticized a US Congressional Staffer for poorly and incorrectly advising members of congress regarding the conditions imposed on the Guatemalan government under the U.S. Appropriations Act. Despite the statements against the staffer, the government expressed gratitude for the financial assistance that the U.S. continues to provide for the spread of democracy.

Senator Leahy responded to the attack on his staff calling the declarations misinformed and imprecise. He also pointed out that his committee approved close to $100 million in funds to Guatemala, and encouraged the Guatemalan Government to implement the reparations plan for the communities affected by the Chixoy Dam.

Earlier this week, Vice President Roxana Baldetti announced that land confiscated from drug traffickers would not be used to compensate Chixoy victims, as originally stated.

Miami Herald: Deep concern over ruling to shorten Paz y Paz’s term

Officials from the U.S. Department of State and the UN’s Anti-Impunity Commission in Guatemala (CICIG) expressed concern for the court’s ruling to end Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s term in May of this year instead of December. The decision could have serious drawbacks for strides in human rights.

Despite reservations expressed by many members, and, protests from human rights groups, the Guatemalan Congress voted to form the commission to choose the next attorney general.

“Fighting for Human Rights”

In part three of a four-part series on Guatemala, the Huffington Post details the work of Freddy Peccerelli, a Guatemalan anthropologist in New York, who is committed to uncovering the atrocities of massacres during the 36-year civil war. The article mentions human rights defenders who were assassinated for their work, and non-profit organizations that fight for the cause, including GHRC.

Ex-soldier gets ten years for lying on U.S. immigration forms

Jorge Sosa, a former Guatemalan soldier, was sentenced to ten years in prison for lying on U.S. immigration forms about his role in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre and other war crimes. A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer testified that Sosa never would have received residence or citizenship in the U.S. if he had disclosed the truth.

Conflict over Proposed Dam Flares Up in Guatemala

Community resistance to a hydroelectric project in Guatemala is once again met with government repression; a fourth attempt at dialogue ends with an inconclusive whimper

Community members rally against proposed hydroelectric projects, Oct 2013 (PrensaComunitaria)

Community members rally against proposed hydroelectric projects, Oct 2013 (PrensaComunitaria)

 On September 28, resistance leader Mynor López was walking by the church in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango, when he was suddenly seized by men dressed in civilian clothing, taken in a pickup to a waiting military helicopter, and flown to Guatemala City.

Mynor had been active in the widespread resistance movement against a proposed hydroelectric dam. In an already tense atmosphere, the irregular and perhaps illegal capture was seen by community members as yet another attempt by the Guatemalan government to break the opposition through intimidation and brute force.

The response of the population was both immediate and massive. In communities across the region – San Juan Ixcoy, Soloma, Santa Eualia, San Mateo Ixtatán and Nentón – residents took to the streets in peaceful protest, blockading highways and demanding Mynor’s release.

The government responded in its typical heavy-handed fashion. Guatemalan security forces composed of riot police and soldiers were mobilized. From September 28 to 30, remote northern Huehuetenango looked like a war zone: military aircraft circled overhead, white clouds of tear gas billowed, and residents lived in terror.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC’s) Guatemala office received periodic updates as rumors circulated:

  • “The military are shooting tear gas from their helicopters…”

  • “The combined forces…tried to leave through a community called La Florida. When the community denied passage to the police and military, police officers opened fire…”

  • “There are unconfirmed rumors of injured persons, amongst them children…”

The conflict resulted in several severe injuries, including women and children poisoned by tear gas, and the still-unexplained death of a soldier. In order to seek a peaceful resolution, community leaders met with high-level government officials and developed a 7-point agreement whereby the government would remove 60 percent of its security forces and the communities would liberate the highways.

Obtaining concrete or verifiable information about what actually transpired, however, has proved difficult. There was no presence of governmental observers such as the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) or the Presidential Human Rights Office (COPREDEH). Government investigators couldn’t get access to the soldier’s body where he was allegedly shot and the forensic report has not been made public.

A cursory investigation into the death of the soldier was evidently enough for Interior Minister López Bonilla to publicly blame community members for the fatality. In a press conference on Monday, September 30, he confirmed “approximately” 13 arrest warrants for “disturbances and the death of the soldier.” Another 40 outstanding arrest warrants, some dating back as far as 2011, were also made public. “Order will be imposed in Barillas,” he emphasized, seated next to the Defense Minister.

López Bonilla additionally threatened to deport any foreigners who might be accompanying or supporting local social movements: “We won’t permit their meddling in Guatemala’s internal affairs,” he said.

Communities in northern Huehuetenango released their own press statement, linking government aggressions to the new wave of officially sanctioned “transnational invasions.” The use of excessive force by security forces, they said, brought back memories of the counterinsurgency strategy of the 1980’s, when military troops and helicopters were used to terrorize and massacre the population. “We won’t allow mining licenses to destroy us or the territory we live in and have cared for over thousands of years,” their statement said. “We demand respect for community referendums and the cancellation of all licenses for all large-scale development projects in the region.”

National and international organizations, including GHRC, immediately expressed concern about the situation, including the lack of transparency in the investigation of the soldier’s death and the alleged illegalities in the detention of Mynor López. A delegation that included a congressional representative and a member of the International Council of Jurists visited Mynor in prison and witnessed signs of physical abuse that he had suffered while in custody of state forces.

President Pérez Molina addresses the public in Barillas on Oct. 8, 2013 (

President Pérez Molina addresses the public in Barillas on Oct. 8, 2013 (

On October 8, after a week of tense but relative calm, official dialogue began around the proposed hydroelectric projects in Santa Cruz Barillas. This was the fourth attempt at dialogue; past efforts had either been broken off by the government, or the official representatives simply never showed up. If talks failed this time, however, it would not be for lack of high-level participation: President Otto Pérez Molina was present, as well as his Ministers of Defense, the Interior, Energy and Mines, and the Environment. A representative of the Spanish hydroelectric company, Hidro Santa Cruz/Hidralia Energia, was also at the table. Local mayors, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and religious leaders joined representatives from affected communities, filling the room. Thousands more waited in their communities for news from the dialogue process.

Repression against Non-Violent Protesters

This remote region in Huehuetenango – about as far away from the capital as you can get without being in Mexico – is part of the so-called Northern Development Zone. It has been identified as a rich source of metals, hydro power, and petroleum, and successive administrations have courted international investment from Colombia to Canada to Spain to “develop” the region. There are now approximately 15 hydroelectric dams in different stages of planning and development in the area, as well as plans for oil extraction and mining.

Under international law and, by default, Guatemalan law, indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior and informed consent before large-scale projects can be carried out in their territories. The Guatemalan government has consistently and  systematically neglected to implement that law. Instead, local Q’anjob’al, Chuj, and Akateko communities organized themselves and have taken the initiative to consult with the population. In a formal community referendum in 2007, residents in Barillas voted overwhelmingly to oppose to any mining operations or other projects funded by foreign investment.

The Barillas municipal government, respecting the will of the people, refused to grant a license to Hidro Santa Cruz for the Cambalam dam. The company sued to reverse that decision, and ultimately won. As the project advanced, still without proper consultation, opposition increased. Community leaders began receiving threats from individuals linked to the company.

President Pérez Molina addresses soldiers in Santa Cruz Barillas after declaring martial law in May 2012. (PlazaPublica)

President Pérez Molina addresses soldiers in Santa Cruz Barillas after declaring martial law in May 2012. (PlazaPublica)

On May 1, 2012, tension peaked when local community member Andrés Francisco Miguel was murdered and two others were seriously injured, in an armed attack apparently carried out by individuals working for Hidro Santa Cruz. (Residents commented that Andrés had been unwilling to sell his land to the company.) A large crowd gathered and tried to chase down the attacker, who took refuge in the military base.

That same day, President Otto Pérez Molina declared martial law in Barillas, suspending the constitutional rights of the population. Over the next 18 days, soldiers ransacked people’s homes in warrantless searches, dumping food on the floor, stealing identification papers and other documents, intimidating the population, and arresting community leaders.

Political Persecution and Criminalization

In the aftermath of the May 1st events, and under the cover of martial law, the government began arresting community activists opposed to the mine, charging them with a laundry list of crimes such as robbery, kidnapping and terrorism. Nine people were captured on May 2 by men in civilian clothing, much like Mynor Lopez. Two more were detained on May 4th. The arrests of the 11 community members occurred under questionable circumstances, and the months they spent in pre-trial detention (all were denied bail) were fraught with irregularities and gross violations of due process.

It wasn’t until January 2013 that a judge ordered provisional release of all of those detained for lack of evidence against them. In an interview with GHRC, Arcadia, a community leader whose brother had just been released and who was still in hiding to avoid arrest herself, spoke of her conviction to fight for her community.

“They are persecuting me because I am a spokeswoman for the people. I don’t just speak about my rights; I speak out about the rights of the community. I am speaking out for those children who cannot yet defend their rights,” said Arcadia. “I am speaking from the bottom of my heart for a common good. And that is why they persecute me, and not only me, but many others too, such as my friends who have already suffered in jail.”

Barillas has become a paradigmatic example of how the Guatemalan judicial system is being manipulated to target community leaders who oppose “development” projects. As defense lawyer Sergio Vives explained, when the Prosecutor’s office attempts “to charge a community leader with terrorism, simply because he demands his rights, because he exercises a constitutional right to protest, to rally, to express a difference of opinion,” the State is, in effect, taking political prisoners.

Fourth time’s the charm?

Expectations for the outcome of the latest attempt at negotiations quickly dropped. In an interview after the four-hour meeting on October 8, Q’anjob’al community leader Rigoberto Juárez said the conversation had been superficial. The success of the dialogue and the ability to reach a solution, he said, will depend on the political will of the government.

“We still need to get to the heart of the issue…Q’anjob’al communities have been demanding development for many years, but we have been one of most forgotten peoples in the country. It isn’t until companies come, promoting projects in our territory, that we hear about the ‘need to develop,’” said  Juárez. “Development for who? Will the money stay in the community? No, it goes to fill others’ pockets, and we will continue to live in poverty. What we’re asking now is for the government to cancel all the [mining and hydroelectric] licenses that have been granted.”

Few development projects in Guatemala have received as much political support and state resources as Hidro Santa Cruz has to implement their Cambalam Hydroelectric dam. (The 3-week period of martial law in 2012 alone cost the government almost $700,000.)

Unfortunately, the government’s political will seems to extend only so far as the transnational companies will allow. After participating in the dialogue, President Pérez Molina made clear that he would not restrict or cancel licenses to companies that had invested in projects in Barillas. The government, he said, might be open to “other solutions.”

By Kelsey Alford-Jones, Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. First published on on October 10, 2013.

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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Genocide Trial in Guatemala Drawing to a Close

Over the last month, the historic trial has been moving forward in Guatemala’s High Risk Court charging former Head of State Efraín Ríos Montt and former Head of Military Intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez with Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The victims have waited for over 30 years for justice to be served for the atrocities committed against Guatemala’s indigenous people, and finally, a verdict is in sight.

Thanks to all of our supporters who sent an email to U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon asking him to attend the genocide trial. Although the trial began on March 19, the US Ambassador didn’t make an appearance in the courtroom until April 9th. The following day the Embassy finally broke its silence regarding the trial and issued a press release reiterating the importance of justice for reconciliation in Guatemala. The press release also expressed the US’s support for justice processes which are “credible, independent, transparent and impartial,” and exhorted “all Guatemalans to respect the legitimacy and integrity of the process.”


Nobel Peace Prize winner and genocide survivor Rigoberta Menchu greets victims’ families. (Photo:

Breaking News: We’ve received word that a decision in the trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and José Rodríquez Sanchez may come as soon as the end of this week. The trial has progressed at breakneck speed covering testimony from more than 100 survivors and dozens of experts, despite constant attempts by the defense to stall or derail the process.

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Weekly News Round-Up, March 18-25

Day 1 of Genocide Trial
On March 19, 2013, the historic trial opened against Rios Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez. After almost two hours of delays by the Defense, the trial began. The public prosecutor stated that the objective of military operational plans under Ríos Montt was the destruction of the Mayan Ixil population as part of a counter-insurgency campaign that characterized civilians of this ethnic and linguistic minority as an “internal enemy”. Attorney Edgar Pérez rejected assertions that the act of seeking justice is itself an act of terrorism or an effort to destabilize Guatemalan society. Political pressure on the actors involved has been intense, and just before the trial begain, President Otto Perez Molina’s denied that genocide took place. Perez told reporters: “It is important to state it because I lived it: there was no genocide in Guatemala.” Marcie Mersky, Program Director at the International Center for Transitional Justice, says such comments may influence legal proceedings and are inappropriate.

Lolita Chávez participates in month-long speaking tour in Canada and US
In events in Montreal, Ottowa, Vancouver, BC and Washington, DC, Lolita Chavez spoke about the work of the K’iche’ People’s Council and community resistance to harmful transnational development projects. In an interview with Montreal Gazette, Lolita stated that: “Canadian companies are the main protagonists in this invasion that brings only death and destruction.” A short video interview is available here.

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Weekly News Round Up Feb. 23-Mar.5

Constitutional Court upholds case closure for Efraín Bámaca’s disappearance
The Constitutional Court (CC) has confirmed the closure of the criminal case involving the forced disappearance of Efraín Bámaca. In March 2011, Bámaca’s widow, Jennifer Harbury, brought a criminal complaint against then presidential candidate Pérez Molina for his role in her husband’s disappearance and death. Bámaca (alias Comandante Everardo) disappeared in 1992. According to the military, he committed suicide, but Harbury says that he was actually detained, tortured and killed. In December 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to re-investigate the case of Bámaca’s forced disappearance. Harbury’s lawyer has indicated that he will take action against Pérez Molina for not fulfilling the IACHR’s demands for a re-investigation of the case.

Constitutional Court rejects legal action filed by Toto indigenous leaders
The Constitutional Court (CC) unanimously rejected the legal action filed by the 48 cantones of Totonicapán against the Mining Law. The court’s decision called on Congress to regulate consultation with indigenous communities as established in ILO Convention number 169. The plaintiffs argue that the Mining Law was issued when there was still a right to consultation under the ILO convention and therefore the law is unconstitutional because it does not respect that right. The trial against the soldiers who fired on the group of protesters in Totonicapán last year is still ongoing. One of the defense lawyers for the accused soldiers says that he will ask for an acquittal. He says that his clients were motivated by “an overwhelming fear”, and thus they are innocent.

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Weekly News Round Up Feb. 12-18

Communities deny participation in new attack on Hidro Santa Cruz in Barillas
The Spanish-owned hydroelectric company is claiming that on the night of February 17, a group of 15-20 people closed off the entryway and entered the construction site where they damaged equipment. The community, which resumed peaceful protests against the hydroelectric project on the 15th, says that it had nothing to do with the attacks. Community leaders insist that, as of now, they do not know who is responsible for these events. Actions such as these have, in some cases, been carried out by people linked to a company in order justify a greater police or military presence to protect its economic interests.

Meanwhile, Otto Pérez Molina spoke to Spanish businesses about investing in Guatemala. In a speech before a group of Spanish businessmen and several government officials, President Pérez Molina emphasized the need for more foreign direct investment in his country. Highlighting the abundant hydroelectric and mining resources in Guatemala, and projects that like in Barillas, he claimed that conflicts around resource extraction projects are simply a product of misinformation put forth by environmental groups, which have been “fully identified and controlled.”

Eight soldiers and one colonel will go to trial for Totonicapán killings
Colonel Juan Chiroy and eight of his soldiers will not be tried for the crime of extrajudicial execution in the killing of six protesters in Totonicapán in October of last year. Instead, the colonel is charged with breach of duty while the soldiers are charged with breach of duty and “murder in a state of violent emotion.” Judge Carol Patricia Flores determined that the soldiers fired in self-defense. On February 19th, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented a recusal against Judge Flores.

IACHR mediation to prevent contamination in El Salvador by Guatemalan mining
On January 10, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman Office (PDH) asked the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) to mediate in order to prevent potential contamination by the Cerro Blanco mine. The gold mine is property of the Canadian company Goldcorp Inc. and is located in Guatemala near the border with El Salvador, in a region that could affect 600,000 people. It sits near the source of the water basins for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. On February 12, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced the creation ofa commission to investigate the impact of the mine. Despite concerns from many Salvadoran institutions, including the Catholic Church of El Salvador, about the dangers of the Cerro Blanco mining project, President Pérez Molina has rejected the notion that the project poses a risk of contamination. He also announced plans to resolve the conflict surrounding the mine by holding a meeting with the Salvadoran government next week.

Search for missing persons from 1983 
The program ‘Todos por el Reencuentro’ made an appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice regarding the search for 9 disappeared persons in 1983. The case began with 24 children who, in 1983, were taken to a military base in Cobán. Fourteen were found adopted in Italy and one in the capital. The program will petition Congress to ratify the International Convention Against Forced Disappearances, which Guatemala signed in 2006.

Héctor Mario López Fuentes will not stand trial
82-year-old Former Minister of Defense, Héctor Mario López Fuentes, will not be tried for genocide and crimes against humanity after a new report by the National Institute of Forensic Sciences concluded that he does not have full use of his mental faculties. The report states that he does not have the capability to understand and express himself adequately in court. His poor health, including hearing, speech and vision problems, is being blamed on the fact that he has suffered from a stroke, and has multiple myeloma and bladder and prostate cancer. His attorney has also recused the judge in charge of his trial.

January News Round Up

Ríos Montt on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity
The trial against former head of state Ríos Montt and along with former general José Rodríguez, began on January 30th, two days after Judge Ángel Gálvez announced his decision to try the two men for genocide and crimes against humanity. The much-anticipated announcement drew a large crowd which included many survivors of the armed conflict as well as journalists, retired military personnel, and human rights activists. The decision was hailed as a victory for the victims of one of the most violent conflicts in Central America.

Spanish delegation comments on conflict in Santa Cruz Barillas
A group of Spanish representatives on a mission to investigate human rights in Guatemala held a press conference last week to talk about several of the cases they looked into during their visit. One of the cases that they highlighted was the conflict in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango surrounding the dam proposed by the Hidro Santa Cruz energy company. One Spanish representative expressed concern for the human rights violations there including the assassination of a community member, illegally long detentions of political prisoners and the absence of a means of democratic communication between the community members and authorities. Another representative, Josep Nuet, expressed a desire for Hidro Santa Cruz to start the project anew, this time with the input of the community.

Limitations on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights repealed
The executive branch announced on January 17th Government Agreement number 30-2013, which repealed an earlier decision to not recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on violations prior to February, 1987. The original agreement (number 370), which was announced on January 2nd, was met with much criticism, forcing the President to suspend it the next day.

An analysis of President Perez Molina’s first year in office
During his first year in office, President Pérez Molina launched the Cero Hambre and Bolsa Segura programs to combat malnutrition and hunger. His critics allege that these programs have not yet reached much of the at-risk population and have not done enough to break the cycle of poverty. Credit should be given to the attorney general, police commissioner, and interior minister, and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala for the improvements in the murder rate as well as the security situation. “In 2012, Guatemala recorded 5,174 homicides, approximately 500 fewer than in Colom’s last year, thereby reducing the country’s murder rate from 39 to 34 per 100,000. However, while the government’s increased reliance on the military and mano dura policies has not led to an increase in homicides, there is good reason to be concerned with the government’s increasing reliance on the military to perform acts better suited for police.” writes Mike Allison.

Defense Ministry blocks access to military records from 1982
The Minister of Defense, Ulises Noé Anzueto, has declared that military documents from 1982 shall remain classified. Last month the Office of Human Rights requested access to specific documents detailing Army General Orders for Officers from that year. Military officials have stated that the documents contain sensitive information pertaining to the “structure, composition, size, strength and weaponry” used by the army and therefore cannot be released. GAM (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo) rejected the Defense Ministry’s decision, saying that it is necessary for the public to have access to this information and that their refusal to release the documents violates the Law of Access to Public Information (LAIP). According to the Defense Ministry, the documents must remain classified for another seven years.

President Pérez Molina talks about drug reform and ‘alternative’ approaches to dealing with gangs
The Guatemalan president indicated that he would be open to alternative ways of dealing with the gang problem in his country, including negotiating a dialogue between rival groups. After the success of this strategy in neighboring El Salvador, Guatemalan officials were hopeful about the outcome of such ‘alternative’ ways of dealing with this issue although Pérez did warn that the nature of the Salvadorian gang problem was different than that in Guatemala. The President’s comments were made at the World Economic Forum, where he also claimed that reforming prohibitionist drug laws would reduce drug violence by half. More recently, the Minister of the Interior announced a new heroin poppy crop substitution program.

Conflict and violence at San Rafael mine
A violent attack on the San Rafael Las Flores mine took place sometime in the night between January 11th and 12th. The citizens of the town, who have been peacefully protesting the mine for several months, became worried as news of the event spread. At least two of the mine’s workers were killed during the night and several others were injured in what appears to be a well-planned attack from an unknown source. Unfortunately, reports soon circulated blaming the local population for creating unrest in the community. Minister of the Interior, Mauricio López Bonilla, claimed that the attack was an act of terror connected to drug-traffickers and hired hitmen. Most media reports failed to highlight the non-violent efforts of community members over the past few months to stop the company from violating their rights. Community members insist that they stand in opposition to the mining company, not the people of San Rafael.

Security guards at Marlin mine shoot at workers
On January 8th, guards at the Marlin mine in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, San Marcos shot at and wounded nine mine workers who are protesting against the mining company, Montana Exploradora of Guatemala. The workers were protesting for the right to employment benefits. The company has been coercing its workers to sign employment contracts which do not allow them to receive any benefits for working in the mine.

Human Rights Ombudsman says the state has failed to consult local populations about hydroelectric and mining projects
Jorge de León Duque went before the Court of Constitutionality to testify the that State of Guatemala has not been respecting the human rights of the indigenous communities whose lands are being used for hydroelectric and mining purposes. He points to the fact that the government and energy companies have been ignoring the input of the communities where these projects are being built.

Military increasing role in citizen security
President Pérez Molina has order the Ministry of Defense to develop a plan to increase military involvement in both citizen and border security. The president indicated that he would not back down when it comes to matters of security, especially after the news of increased violence in January. The Catholic Church has expressed a concern over the remilitarization of the country. Following a meeting between the President, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense, Perez Molina announced that they were looking into the possibility of declaring a state of emergency in those areas of the country that have been most affected by violence.

A tense situation faces community members of San Antonio Las Trojes 1, San Juan Sacatepéquez
The community has opposed the construction of a cement factory for Cementos Progreso since 2006. In spite of their protests, the company has brought heavy machinery to the community to build a well, as well as threatened and assaulted both a visiting verification commission and local leaders. Since January 28th, over 5,000 people have maintained a daily, nonviolent protest in front of the cement factory to denounce the acts of violence and intimidation, and to demand that their rights be respected.

GHRC Denounces Closure of Peace Archives Directorate in Guatemala // GHRC denuncia clausura de la Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz

[en espanol abajo]

The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA expresses extreme concern at the Guatemalan Government’s announcement that it is closing down the Peace Archives Directorate of the Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ) and dissolving its investigative team, effectively canceling their projects to publish historical reports and denying future contributions to criminal investigations.

The work of the Peace Archives Directorate (Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz, DAP) has been integral to ongoing efforts to institutionalize the peace process and promote transitional justice, and has contributed greatly to the public’s access to truth and historic memory.

The Directorate’s investigative researchers and their reports have provided key evidence for human rights prosecutions, such as the military chain of command at times when the army committed massacres, torture and forced disappearances. Recently, Archive staff were called upon to provide expert testimony in emblematic cases such as the Genocide Case brought against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.

Created in 2008, the Directorate´s mandate is to “receive, analyze, classify, compile and digitalize military archives in order to establish human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict”, recognizing explicitly that “the clarification of historic truth has been part of the Guatemalan peace process given that it contributes to the dignification of victims” of the conflict. In 2009, the mandate was expanded to include documents from other Government offices that could help establish human rights violations.

In only four years, the office has digitalized more than two million documents and published nine books that analyze themes such as the Presidential General Staff (Estado Mayor Presidencial, or EMP), illegal adoptions, the Military Diary (el Diario Militar), and the labor rights movement.

Nevertheless, the Secretary of Peace, Antonio Arenales Forno, announced on May 31 that the investigation and analysis provided by the archive is not reason to maintain the entity, saying: “Today the decision was made to eliminate the Directorate, canceling contracts for which I find no justification and the functioning of an office I find makes no sense.” The focus of the Peace Archives, he maintained, should be on providing information for the National Reparations Program, not on investigating the military, an erroneous justification given that the dignification of victims through the clarification of the truth is considered an important element of reparations.

Since January, when retired General Pérez Molina assumed the presidency, 23 staff members of the Directorate have been dismissed, including the former director Marco Tulio Alvarez. In April, five technical archival experts were let go, and on May 28, 17 investigators and other experts were notified that their contracts had been prematurely terminated. Members of the SEPAZ union, SITRASEPAZ, have denounced the firings as illegal under existing procedural guidelines.

The closure will also terminate an existing agreement of cooperation between the Peace Archives and the Public Prosecutor’s Office and will impede the Archive’s contribution to criminal investigations into human rights violations. Furthermore, the comments of Arenales Forno demonstrate not only a lack of respect for victims of the internal armed conflict, but a genuine threat to their right to truth and justice.

By dismantling the entity designed to oversee and manage the entirety of documents pertaining to human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict, Secretary Arenales Forno and President Pérez Molina will extinguish an invaluable contribution to the preservation of historic memory and to the State´s obligations under the Peace Accords, at the same time obstructing efforts to investigate the military for egregious human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission calls on the Guatemalan government to:

  • Strengthen, not weaken, the Peace Archives Directorate and respect its important role in promoting transitional justice;
  • Reestablish formal collaboration and inter-governmental agreements that were terminated between the Directorate and the Public Prosecutor’s Office;
  • Reinstate any worker whose contract has been illegally terminated;
  • Explain the fate of the digital archives maintained by the Directorate and the public reading room;
  • Clarify and make transparent the plans to restructure SEPAZ, the National Reparations Program (PNR) and the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH).

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Washington, DC
June 4, 2012

La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Estados Unidos (GHRC) expresa su profunda preocupación por el anuncio del Gobierno de Guatemala de clausurar la Dirección del los Archivos de la Paz de la Secretaria de la Paz (SEPAZ) y desarticular su equipo de investigación, efectivamente anulando sus proyectos de publicaciones de informes históricos y de la memoria histórica y negando futuras contribuciones a investigaciones criminales.

El trabajo de la Dirección del los Archivos de la Paz (DAP) ha sido integral en los continuos esfuerzos para institucionalizar el proceso de paz y justicia transicional y ha aportado grandes contribuciones al acceso público a la verdad y la memoria histórica.

Los investigadores de la DAP y sus publicaciones han brindado evidencia clave en juicios de derechos humanos, así como sobre la cadena de mando del Ejército en tiempos en los que cometió masacres, tortura y desapariciones forzadas. Recientemente, personal de la DAP fue citado a dar testimonio como perito en casos emblemáticos como el caso de genocidio contra el ex dictador Efraín Ríos Montt.

Creada en 2008, la DAP tiene el mandato de “recibir, analizar, clasificar, compilar y digitalizar archivos militares con el fin de establecer violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidas durante el conflicto armado interno”, reconociendo explícitamente que “el esclarecimiento de la verdad histórica ha sido parte del proceso de paz guatemalteco y que contribuye a la dignificación de las víctimas” del conflicto. En 2009, el mandato fue ampliado para incluir documentos de otras instituciones del Estado que pudieran tener información sobre violaciones a los derechos humanos.

Tan solo durante cuatro años, la oficina ha digitalizado más de dos millones de documentos y ha publicado nueve libros que analizan temas como el Estado Mayor Presidencial, adopciones ilegales, el Diario Militar y el movimiento sindical.

Sin embargo, el Secretario de la Paz, Antonio Arenales Forno, anunció el 31 de mayo que la investigación y análisis que se lleva a cabo en la DAP no es suficiente motivo para mantener la entidad con vida, diciendo que: “Hoy por hoy se tomó la decisión de eliminar la Dirección, cancelando contratos por los que no encuentro justificación y la función de una dirección a la que no le encuentro sentido”. El enfoque de la DAP, insistió Arenales Forno, debe ser en proveer información para el Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, no en investigar el ejército, una justificación errónea ya que la dignificación de las victimas a través del esclarecimiento de la verdad es considerada una forma importante de resarcimiento.

Desde enero, cuando asumió la presidencia el general retirado Otto Pérez Molina, 23 empleados de la DAP han sido despedidos, incluyendo el entonces Director, Marco Tulio Alvarez. En abril, cinco técnicos archivistas fueron destituidos y el 28 de mayo, 17 investigadores y otros expertos fueron notificados que se había rescindido sus contratos antes de tiempo. Miembros del sindicato de SEPAZ, SITRASEPAZ, han denunciado los despidos como ilegales según los procedimientos legales correspondientes.

La clausura también termina con un convenio de cooperación vigente entre la DAP y el Ministerio Público e impedirá que el Archivo aporte información para procesos penales por violaciones a derechos humanos. Además, los comentarios de Arenales Forno demuestran no sólo una falta de respeto para las víctimas del conflicto armado interno, sino también una amenaza real a su derecho de conocer la verdad y se haga justicia.

Al desmantelar la entidad diseñada para supervisar y administrar la totalidad de los documentos relacionados con las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas durante el conflicto armado interno, Secretario Arenales Forno y el Presidente Pérez Molina extinguirán una contribución invalorable a la preservación de la memoria histórica y al cumplimiento de los Acuerdos de Paz, a la vez que obstaculizan los esfuerzos para investigar al ejército por las violaciones atroces de derechos humanos y crímenes de lesa humanidad.

La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala insta al Gobierno de Guatemala a:

  • Fortalecer, en vez de debilitar, la Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz y respetar su papel importante en impulsar un proceso de justicia transicional;
  • Restablecer la colaboración formal y los compromisos inter-gubernativos rescindidos entre la DAP y el Ministerio Público;
  • Reincorporar cualquier trabajador cuyo contrato fue rescindido de forma ilegal;
  • Explicar el destino de los archivos digitales administrados por la DAP y el del salón de lectura;
  • Clarificar y transparentar los planes para reestructurar la SEPAZ, el Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento (PNR) y la Comisión Presidencial Coordinadora de la Política del Ejecutivo en materia de Derechos Humanos (COPREDEH).

Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Estados Unidos
Washington, DC
4 de junio de 2012