The Ongoing Criminalization of Human Rights Defender Abelino Chub Caal

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The Guatemalan government, through the Public Prosecutor’s Office, insists on continuing to criminalize Abelino Chub Caal, in the context of land dispossession suffered by the Q’eqchi community of Plan Grande in El Estor, Izabal.

Abelino Chub, an indigenous land rights advocate, spent 813 days unjustly imprisoned previous to his trial, falsely accused of aggravated usurpation, arson, and illicit association. He was finally released on April 22, 2019 after the High-Risk Court A issued an exculpatory sentence, finding him innocent of all charges.

However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has—inconceivably—decided to file an appeal against the sentence. On February 24, 2021, the Criminal Court of Appeals held a special appeal hearing. Defense attorney Jovita Tzul presented her arguments and Abelino Chub voiced his dismay at the appeal, asking the Court to uphold the sentence in his favor.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office did not even appear at the hearing, opting instead to send its allegations via written form. The court’s resolution of this appeal will be issued on March 10 at 3:00 pm. 

The actions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office appear to be part of a strategy to criminalize human rights defenders and community leaders in Guatemala. Keeping Abelino Chub embroiled in a criminal process literally handcuffs his ability to carry out his work in defense of the Q’eqchi people. This despite the high court’s finding Abelino to be completely innocent.

According to Abelino Chub’s defense, “The sentence issued on April 22, 2019 by the High-Risk Court A, is clear and logically reasoned. It is therefore incomprehensible that the Public Ministry alleges in its appeal that the sentence (2016-00328) is not well founded because it didn’t give sufficient evidentiary value to two of the prosecution’s witnesses—the foreman and the manager of the Murciélago farm, allegedly owned by Cobra Investments and CXI, Inc. (companies with a vested interest in the area and plaintiffs in the case). For this reason, it is clear that this continues to be a case of criminalization and a strategy for dispossession of the Q’eqchi lands.”

It is troubling that the Guatemalan State, via the Public Prosecutor’s Office, continues to criminalize and persecute human rights defenders, while promoting and endorsing the dispossession of indigenous lands. Furthermore, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has clearly disregarded its duty to investigate the serious irregularities that were evidenced during the trial. The High-Risk Court A, in its sentence, ordered “the Public Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an investigation into the irregularities detected in the public land titles that form part of the documentary evidence.” No such investigation has been conducted, however, to our knowledge, and no results announced.

Abelino was captured by the Guatemalan National Civil Police on February 4, 2017, in the department of Alta Verapaz.  The arrest took place in a context of pronounced social conflict provoked by business interests that have systematically stripped the Q’eqchi people of their lands. These companies have produced violence and serious environmental impacts while imposing their economic projects: monoculture plantations, the construction of massive hydroelectric plants, and nickel mining.

These projects have contributed to the increase in poverty and extreme poverty in the region. The Q’eqchi communities that have historically resided in the territory have repeatedly denounced the violence, repression, criminalization and evictions they suffer. However, the Guatemalan justice system has not responded to these complaints. In fact, megaprojects continue to be imposed on community lands, in violation of rights protected by the Constitution of the Republic and international conventions, such as ILO Convention 169, which establishes respect for indigenous lands and the right to prior, free, and informed consultations concerning the use of those lands. 

We, the undersigned organizations, denounce the criminalization of defenders and the dispossession of indigenous lands through the improper application of the law against those defending their legitimate and legal rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed its concern regarding the criminalization of human rights defenders and the malicious use of criminal law to limit the exercise of the defense of human rights.   

We urgently call on the Guatemalan State to guarantee the rights of the Q’eqchi indigenous communities, including the right to defend human rights and the right to defend their territory. 

We urgently call on the Public Prosecutor’s Office to desist from continuing to pursue criminal proceedings which criminalize human rights defenders such as Abelino Chub Caal and violate the rights of indigenous communities, such as Plan Grande de El Estor, Izabal. In addition, we call on you to comply with your obligation to investigate objectively and impartially to stop the forced dispossession of Q’eqchi lands.

Signed:

Institutions

Abogado Liberal
ActionAid Guatemala
ALIANZAS, Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington
Asociación Chomija
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional-CEJIL
Chomija
CoDevelopment Canada
Colectivo de Mujeres Ix Bahlam
Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL)
Denver Justice and Peace Committee
Foro de ONGs Internacionales de Guatemala
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Guatemala Solidarity Project
Hamalali Garinagu
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
MiningWatch Canada
Montreal Elders for Environmental Justice
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
New Hampshire-Vermont Guatemala Accompaniment Project
Nicaragua Center for Community Action
Northern Virginians for Peace and Justice
Older Women Live OWL collective – Ckut 90.3 FM
Plataforma Guatemaltecos y Guatemaltecas Exiliados por Terrorismo de Estado
Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala (PAQG)
Todos por Guatemala/All for Guatemala
TROCAIRE

Individuals

Jo-Marie Burt, Senior Fellow WOLA

Suzan Chastain

Roger Soles, Jade Enterprises

Wes Callender

Laila Hamdan

William Mair Russell

Gaillmarie M Goldrick

Bruce D. Rieder

Constance Freeman

Marilyn Baker

Jonathan Moller

John Ellig

William Walls

Sigue la Criminalización en Contra del Defensor Abelino Chub Caal

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El gobierno de Guatemala, a través del Ministerio Público, insiste en seguir criminalizando a Abelino Chub Caal que subyace el despojo de tierras a la comunidad q’eqchi Plan Grande, de El Estor, Izabal. 

Abelino Chub, defensor de la tierra y los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, pasó 813 días injustamente encarcelado, acusado falsamente de usurpación agravada, incendio y asociación ilícita. 

Abelino finalmente fue puesto en libertad el 22 de abril de 2019 después de que el Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo “A” dictó una sentencia exculpatoria, evidenciando su inocencia. 

Pero el Ministerio Público -incomprensiblemente- presentó una apelación contra la sentencia. Por ello, el 24 de febrero de 2021, la Sala de la Corte de Apelaciones del Ramo Penal de Proceso de Mayor Riesgo y Extinción de Dominio llevó a cabo la audiencia de Apelación Especial. La abogada defensora Jovita Tzul presentó sus alegatos y Abelino Chub expuso su desacuerdo a la apelación y pidieron al Corte confirmar la sentencia a su favor. 

El Ministerio Público ni se presentó por haber enviado sus alegatos por escrito. La resolución de esta audiencia será dictada el día 10 de marzo a las 3.00 pm. 

La actuación del Ministerio Público se enmarca dentro de la estrategia de criminalización contra las y los líderes y defensores de los derechos humanos en Guatemala. Seguir manteniendo a Abelino Chub ligado a un proceso penal, es seguir criminalizándole. Ya fue declarado inocente. 

Según la defensa de Abelino Chub, “la sentencia dictada el 22 de abril del 2019 por el Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo A, es clara, con razonamiento lógico, por lo que es incomprensible que el Ministerio Público alegue en su apelación especial que la sentencia 2016-00328 que no se fundamenta al no dar valor probatorio a dos testigos de la empresa acusadora, siendo ellos caporal y gerente de la finca Murciélago, supuesta propiedad de las mismas empresas familiares de COBRA S.A. Y CXI S.A. Por tal motivo se analiza que sigue siendo un caso de criminalización y estrategia de despojos de las tierras q’eqchi.“ 

Es preocupante que el Estado, a través del Ministerio Público, siga persiguiendo y criminalizando a los defensores de los derechos humanos, siga promoviendo y avalando el despojo de las tierras indígenas, descartando su deber de investigar graves irregularidades que se evidenciaron en el proceso. 

Incluso el Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo A, en su sentencia, “ordena al Ministerio Público que realice investigación en relación a las irregularidades detectadas en las escrituras públicas que forma parte de la prueba documental.”

Abelino fue capturado el 4 de febrero de 2017 por la Policía Nacional Civil de Guatemala, en el departamento de Alta Verapaz. La captura se dio en un contexto de alta conflictividad generada por intereses empresariales, que han despojado de forma sistemática la tierra en manos de comunidades q’eqchis. Estas empresas han generado violencia e graves impactos ambientales en imponer sus proyectos económicos: plantaciones de monocultivos, la construcción de hidroeléctricas masivas, y la explotación minera de níquel. 

Dichos proyectos han contribuido al aumento de la pobreza y la extrema pobreza en la región. Las comunidades q’eqchies que ocupan históricamente el territorio han denunciado de manera reiterada la violencia, represión, criminalización y ataques que sufren. Sin embargo, el sistema de justicia guatemalteco no ha dado respuesta alguna a las denuncias. Al contrario, los megaproyectos se imponen por encima de tierras de comunidades violentando derechos amparados en la Constitución Política de la República y en convenios internacionales como el convenio 169 de la OIT que establece el respeto a las tierras indígenas y la consulta de buena fe: previa, libre e informada. 

Las organizaciones que suscribimos el presente pronunciamiento, denunciamos las intenciones de promover la criminalización y la promoción de los despojos, haciendo uso indebido del derecho penal contra defensores de los derechos humanos y comunidades indígenas que defienden sus derechos legítimos y legales. Es de resaltar que La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) ha expresado su preocupación respecto a la criminalización de personas defensoras y el uso malicioso del derecho penal para limitar el ejercicio de defensa de derechos humanos. 

Exhortamos al Estado Guatemalteco, de manera urgente, a garantizar los derechos de las comunidades indígenas q’eqchi, así como el derecho a defender los derechos humanos y la defensa de su territorio. 

Solicitamos al Ministerio Público desistir de seguir impulsando recursos penales que tienen como objetivo la criminalización de defensores de los derechos humanos, como Abelino Chub Caal, y la represión contra comunidades indígenas, como la comunidad Plan Grande del Estor, Izabal. Además, pedimos que se cumpla su obligación de investigar de manera objetiva e imparcial para detener el despojo de las tierras q’eqhi.

Firmado: 

Instituciones:

Abogado Liberal
ActionAid Guatemala
ALIANZAS, Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington
Asociación Chomija
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional-CEJIL
Chomija
CoDevelopment Canada
Colectivo de Mujeres Ix Bahlam
Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL)
Denver Justice and Peace Committee
Foro de ONGs Internacionales de Guatemala
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Guatemala Solidarity Project
Hamalali Garinagu
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
MiningWatch Canada
Montreal Elders for Environmental Justice
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
New Hampshire-Vermont Guatemala Accompaniment Project
Nicaragua Center for Community Action
Northern Virginians for Peace and Justice
Older Women Live OWL collective – Ckut 90.3 FM
Plataforma Guatemaltecos y Guatemaltecas Exiliados por Terrorismo de Estado
Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala (PAQG)
Todos por Guatemala/All for Guatemala
TROCAIRE

Individuals

Jo-Marie Burt, Senior Fellow WOLA

Suzan Chastain

Roger Soles, Jade Enterprises

Wes Callender

Laila Hamdan

William Mair Russell

Gaillmarie M Goldrick

Bruce D. Rieder

Constance Freeman

Marilyn Baker

Jonathan Moller

John Ellig

William Walls

Dianna Ortiz, Presente!

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With heavy hearts yet mindful that her work continues in the world we mark the passing today of Sister Dianna Ortiz, OSU. Dianna worked at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission from 1994 to 2002.  A survivor of torture in Guatemala, Dianna bravely pursued her case through the Guatemalan court system in the early 90s, to no avail, and bravely continued fighting for the rights of survivors of torture, founding the Torture Abolition and Survivor’s Support Coalition in 1998, as a project of GHRC. TASSC operated as a project of GHRC until it received its own 501(c)(3) status in 2002. In 1996 Dianna conducted a highly publicized vigil and hunger strike in front of the White House to request the declassification of all US government documents related to cases of human rights abuse in Guatemala since 1954. The State Department made a voluntary release of thousands of pages of documents that illustrated US complicity with the Guatemalan government in its brutal and genocidal campaign against the Mayan indigenous and against armed insurgents, human rights defenders, and others working for change.

Dianna first came to Washington to participate in GHRC’s 1992 conference against torture in Guatemala, giving the keynote speech. GHRC’s founding director, Sister Alice Zachmann, had fought for Dianna’s release when she was abducted in Guatemala in 1989 and was instrumental in connecting her with a torture treatment center in Chicago, the Marjorie Kovler Center. A couple of years later Dianna would join GHRC’s staff of three and play a pivotal role in supporting Jennifer Harbury’s efforts to learn the fate of her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, efforts that resulted in the disclosure of continued and close US collaboration with and funding of Guatemala’s military death squads.

Dianna was an example of strength, generosity of spirit, and courage. All who knew her were touched by her and all she touched was improved. We are blessed to have had her with us at GHRC and we know she will remain with us in spirit and with all who fight for human rights.

Dianna Ortiz, presente!

(Traduccion por Felipe Elgueta Frontier)

¡DIANNA ORTIZ, PRESENTE!

Con nuestros corazones apesadumbrados pero con la convicción de que su obra continúa en este mundo, hoy anunciamos el fallecimiento de la hermana Dianna Ortiz, OSU. Dianna trabajó en la Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) desde 1994 hasta 2002. Superviviente de tortura en Guatemala, Dianna llevó adelante su caso con valentía en el sistema judicial guatemalteco a principios de los años 90, sin obtener resultados, y con valentía continuó luchando por los derechos de las y los supervivientes de la tortura, fundando la Torture Abolition and Survivor’s Support Coalition (TASSC) en 1998, como un proyecto de la GHRC. La TASSC funcionó como proyecto de la GHRC hasta que recibió su propio estatus 501(c)(3) en 2002.

En 1996, Dianna llevó a cabo una vigilia y huelga de hambre muy publicitada frente a la Casa Blanca para solicitar la desclasificación de todos los documentos del gobierno estadounidense relacionados con casos de violaciones a los derechos humanos en Guatemala desde 1954. El Departamento de Estado liberó voluntariamente miles de páginas de documentos que ilustraban la complicidad de EE.UU. con el gobierno guatemalteco en su campaña brutal y genocida contra las y los indígenas mayas y contra insurgentes armados, defensores de derechos humanos y otros que trabajaban por el cambio.Dianna vino por primera vez a Washington para participar en la conferencia contra la tortura en Guatemala realizada por la GHRC en 1992, donde fue la oradora principal. La directora fundadora de la GHRC, la hermana Alice Zachmann, había luchado por la liberación de Dianna cuando fue secuestrada en Guatemala en 1989 y fue fundamental para conectarla con un centro de tratamiento de tortura en Chicago, el Centro Marjorie Kovler. Un par de años más tarde, Dianna se unió al equipo de tres personas del GHRC y tuvo un rol fundamental en el apoyo a los esfuerzos de Jennifer Harbury para conocer el destino de su esposo, Efraín Bamaca Velásquez, esfuerzos que revelaron los lazos estrechos y continuados de colaboración y financiamiento entre EE.UU. y los escuadrones militares de la muerte de Guatemala.

Dianna fue un ejemplo de generosidad de espíritu, fortaleza y valentía. Todos los que la conocieron fueron tocados por ella, y todo lo que ella tocó, mejoró. Fue una bendición de tenerla con nosotros en el GHRC y sabemos que seguirá con nosotros en espíritu y con todos los que luchan por los derechos humanos.

GHRC Congratulates the Achi Women and their Legal Team for their Victory Over Impunity in the Trial Against five exPAC Convicted of Crimes Against Humanity

(English below)

On January 24, five former Civil Defense Patrollers on trial for sexual violence and crimes against humanity against 36 Maya Achi women were found guilty. Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado, Bernardo Ruiz Aquino, Benvenuto Ruiz Aquino, Damián Cuxum Alvarado, Francisco Cuxum Alvarado will face 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence. Judge Yassmin Barrios, who delivered the ruling, stated, “We, the judges, find the conditions to which the women were subjected to be totally degrading.” 

Over the course of the trial, the prosecution proved that the state employed a systematic strategy of sexual violence against Achi women from 1982 through 1985 as part of a counter-insurgency campaign during the internal armed conflict. In addition to expert witnesses, the brave survivors gave their testimonies of the horrific violence they endured at the hands of the military and the former civil patrollers. 

GHRC applauds this historic ruling and stands in solidarity with the survivors, their Rabinal legal team, and the support organizations, who have worked tirelessly on the long road to justice. In the face of discrimination, racism, threats, and intimidation, these women and their legal team fought tirelessly to bring their truth to light. 

This sentence is a fundamental victory, not only for these 36 brave women, but for all survivors of state violence. Justice is the only way to ensure that these heinous crimes are never repeated. 

We congratulate the Maya Achi women for having triumphed over the widespread impunity in Guatemala.  Their courage is a light for all.  

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA

January 25, 2022

US Department of State Condemns Criminalization of Judge Erika Aifán

On January 16, in a statement, the US Department of State (USDOS) expressed concerns about the deteriorating judicial system in Guatemala, condemning the request filed by the Public Ministry (MP) on January 13 for a preliminary hearing to remove the judicial immunity of Judge Erika Aifán as “a blatant effort to obstruct investigations into corruption and an affront to the integrity of Guatemala’s highest courts.” The MP, in an announcement published to twitter, accuses Aifán of “abuse of authority and breach of duty” related to her overseeing of the 2020 Parallel Commissions Case. Five days later, on January 18, the MP released another request for a preliminary hearing against Aifán for the same crimes, as well as “prevarication” related to the Odebrecht Case. In an atmosphere of increasing criminalization of judicial officials, Aifán stands to lose her judicial immunity and could face prison time for her alleged crimes. But according to Aifán, these charges are false. “I have not committed any crime,” she explained.  

Awarded the “Women of Courage Award” from USDOS in 2021, Aifán is internationally recognized for her work as an independent judge and is identified by the USDOS as “an icon in Guatemala in the fight against corruption, efforts to increase transparency, and actions to improve independence in the justice sector.” Since 2016, she has suffered harassment and threats for her work as a judge; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted her protective measures in 2019, ordering the State of Guatemala to guarantee her safety. For Congresswoman Norma Torres, it is “unacceptable that Judge Aifán and her family have to face violent threats because she is fulfilling her oath to uphold the law.” Others have come forward, as well, in support of Aifán, warning of the broader implications for the justice system. The Central American Federation of Judges for Democracy explained that the MP aims “to criminalize her and her judicial performance which will weaken the fight against corruption and impunity.” According to lawyer Ramon Cadena, Aifán’s losing her immunity would mean”the end of judicial independence in Guatemala.” 

Survivors of Atrocities During the Armed Conflict Could See Justice Next Week 

The trial of five former members of the Civil Defense Patrol accused of sexual violence and crimes against humanity against 36 Maya Achi women wrapped up this week. On January 19, after twelve days of presenting evidence, the prosecution and defense delivered their closing arguments. Judge Yassmin Barrios will announce the verdict on January 24. After 40 years, these brave women–who tenaciously fought delays and discrimination along the way–hope to find justice for the egregious crimes committed against them. As explained by their legal representative Haydeé Valey  of the Rabinal Legal Clinic, “The survivors of the Mujeres Achi case are teaching us that it is possible to shed shame, overcome fear and break the silence, and that forgetting will never be an option.”

Meanwhile, a few floors below in the Tribunal Tower, two other transitional justice cases continued: the Death Squad Dossier and the Tactic Case. The “Death Squad Dossier” refers to an army logbook that came to light in 1999. The logbook was used by military intelligence to track 183 forced disappearances of political dissidents between 1983 and 1985. On the morning of December 18, Judge Angel Gálvez ruled to send retired general Victor Augusto Vásquez Echeverría to trial for the forced disappearance of 14 people. The trial of José Manuel Castañeda Aparicio–accused of the forced disappearance of three people from the municipality of Tactic in the department of Alta Verapaz in 1983–resumed January 19Carlos Juarez, of the Mutual Support Group, shared his hope that “the victims finally have access to justice and truth” which is the only way to prevent these atrocities from repeating. 

Displaced Community Calls Out State Inaction and Failure to Comply with IACHR 

In a protest outside of the Presidential Palace, community members of the displaced community of Laguna Larga condemned the lack of government action on their case. Nearly five years prior, 115 families were forcibly removed from their homes by police and military. With no other option, the community settled on a strip of land near the Mexican border, but according to the IACHR, in their current living arrangement, they are exposed to “extremely unhealthy and unsanitary conditions.” Four community members have died of health issues associated with the current living situation and now, given the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation of health and safety for the community has grown even more precarious. 

In 2017, following their violent eviction from land they had lived on for over 30 years, the community members received precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commision on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR ruled that the situation in which the community was forced to live violated several of their human rights, including the right to water, housing, and education; the IACHR ordered the Guatemalan State to find a solution. With no solution in sight, the IACHR issued a follow-up resolution this past December, expressing willingness to “conduct a new visit to Guatemala in order to establish a space for dialogue to address the challenges identified in the implementation of the measures.” Community members and their legal representation from the Human Rights Law Firm reiterated the responsibility of the state to comply with the IACHR and demanded “ a viable and definitive solution.”

COVID-19 Policies Block Asylum Seekers from Reaching the US 

On January 17, Guatemalan authorities pushed back a caravan of over 600 migrants en route to the United States. The caravan–composed mostly of Hondurans and Nicarguans, with minors comprising about a quarter of the group–had left from the San Pedro Sula bus terminal two days earlier. Video footage reveals Guatemalan police clad in riot gear blocking the migrants from crossing the border. According to authorities, the migrants lacked “the proper health requirements” of proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test to enter Guatemala that came into effect on January 10. Guatemalan Migration Institute Director  Carlos Emilio Morales explained, “We are protecting our borders; we are protecting the health of all Guatemalans.”

Similarly, the US has justified policies that prevent migrants from seeking asylum in the name of public health. For example, Public Health Order Title 42–first implemented in March 2020 by the Trump Administration–allows US border authorities to expel migrants without first screening them for asylum. On January 19, representatives of the Biden administration vigorously defended Title 42 in a hearing at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The hearing is part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that argues the policy violates the right of migrants to seek asylum and will determine whether or not the administration can continue this policy. ACLU lawyers pointed to the violence from which migrants are forced to flee and the brutal conditions they face along the way in search of asylum.  Sharon Swingle, a Justice Department lawyer representing the Biden administration, explained that the administration is “aware of the deplorable and horrific circumstances,” and “the government’s goal is to get back to a state of orderly immigration processing for everyone, but currently, in the CDC’s view, the public health realities don’t permit that.”

Since March of 2020, the US has expelled more than a million migrants under 42. In a recently released report, Human Rights First found nearly 9,000 reports of kidnappings and other violent attacks against people who had been expelled to Mexico or blocked from seeking protection in the US. Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, explained, “The UNHCR has been clear: it is possible for a country both to protect the public health of its people and to ensure access to territory for people forced to flee their homes. Measures restricting access to asylum must not be allowed to become entrenched under the guise of public health.”

Members of Congress Call on Secretary Blinken to Demand End to State of Exception in El Estor 

In a letter released this afternoon, nine representatives publicly urged Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to condemn and call for the removal of the state of exception imposed on El Estor. Of the five states of exception–which is outlined in the Guatemalan Constitution and allows for the temporary suspension of certain rights and guarantees–the state of war is the most restrictive, followed by the state of siege and state of prevention. The community has been under a state of exception since October 23, when President Giammettei declared a state of siege; a state of prevention was declared on November 22 and is set to remain in effect for 15 days. The letter outlines specific incidents of violence committed against the community by security forces and expresses worry over the possibility of US aid being used by police to carry out repression.  

You can read the full text of the letter here. Demands listed below. 

The letter demands that the State Department:

  • Publicly affirm that the U.S. respects the rule of law in Guatemala and that the Constitutional Court’s ruling suspending the Fenix mine until indigenous communities are consulted regarding its operation must be followed.
  • Reiterate to the Guatemalan government that U.S. donated equipment and U.S. funded or trained personnel must never be used to repress nonviolent demonstrators community members, or support the extraction o f natural resources from indigenous land without local consent including to execute the State of Exception Congress has already stressed this after donated jeeps were used to intimidate CICIG and the U.S. Embassy in 2018 and were assured the U.S. equipment would not be misused.
  • Request the Government of Guatemala provide detailed whereabouts of U.S. donated equipment including jeeps and other vehicles donated for the use of counter narcotics operations, portable fingerprint scanners and biometrics data sharing that may be used to identify indigenous leaders, support for Pegasus and other software used to identify activists and political opposition leaders, or any other direct or indirect support. This information should include the chain of command that allowed U.S. assistance to be used to undermine democratic processes and any other uses that are against the intent and interests of the United States, as well as an acknowledgement of any false statements or misleading facts provided to the United States by Guatemalan officials about this event.
  • Provide specific, detailed information regarding any U.S. coordination with the Guatemalan police, military intelligence units public ministry and any other government divisions involved in the State of Exception. Evaluate any U.S. funding streams or support through International Financial Institutions for the Fenix mine or related projects in the region that support the mine.
  • Evaluate U.S. support and training for the Guatemalan police and military in accordance with human rights conditions placed in the 2021 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations law. We also urge you to fully enforce the Leahy Law, which prohibits assistance to individuals or units of any foreign military or police body that commit gross human rights abuses with impunity. The State Department, including our embassy in Guatemala and the Department of Defense, must take a consistent and public stance supporting those threatened with human rights abuses, and strongly encourage the investigation and prosecution of those perpetuating crimes.
  • We also ask that you immediately block assistance to state agents involved in the State of Exception and related repression in El Estor.

Police Burn Homes in El Chinebal, Forcibly Displacing 96 maya Q’eqchi Families

A contingent of hundreds of National Civil Police (PNC) officers forcibly evicted 96 Maya Q’eqchi families on November 16. Carrying out an eviction order against the community, the PNC used heavy machinery to destroy their homes and burned their homes, belongings, and crops. Police also arrested Yolanda Choc Maquin for trying to defend her home and placed her five-year-old daughter in custody. According to Citizens United Against Corruption (UCLC), “What the PNC in Guatemala is doing is a crime, even if they call it an eviction.” The eviction was carried out under the state of siege, which has been in effect since October 25. (Read more about the state of siege here)

Located in southern El Estor, the community has been living on a parcel of land allegedly owned by Juan Maegli, who rents the land to the Naturaceites company for planting and processing African palm. Company employees have accused the community of “usurping the land” but community members deny the accusation, claiming, “As indigenous people, we have the right to access the land as the Constitution says.” For years, the community has experienced threats and attempted evictions, often resulting in violence. On October 31, 2020, 300 PNC officers carried out an eviction of the community, firing tear gas and using weapons against families. Amidst the repression, Jose Choc Chaman was killed; his murder remains unpunished. 

PNC Repress Protesters in Plurinational Strike  

Thousands of protesters blocked roads across 12 departments Monday and Tuesday as part of a plurinational strike. The strikeorganized by the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA)–denounced “extreme economic crisis, corrupt political officials, and the repression of the system headed by Giammattei and his members of Congress” and once again called for the President’s resignation. Mounted in solidarity with Maya Q’eqchi defenders in resistance to a mine in El Estor, protesters called for authorities to overturn the state of siege imposed on the community and respect the constitutional court ruling that upholds their right to consultation. (You can read more about the case on our blog.)


The National Civil Police (PNC)–some clad in full riot gear–were dispatched to the protests across the nation and were reported in some areas to be using excessive force. For example, in El Trebon police reportedly attacked women and children with their clubs and one officer was seen carrying an unauthorized knife. Guatemalan Congresswoman Vicenta Jeronimo denounced the repression saying, “A government that sends police into the streets to repress protesters in one that is violating our rights.”  

Department of Homeland Security to Likely Reinstate Remain in Mexico Program

Following a court ruling, the Department of Homeland Security announced it will likely reinstate the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP). More commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico Program,” MPP is a Trump-era policy that forces asylum seekers that arrive at the southern border to wait out the decision on their cases in Mexico. Biden began rolling back MPP upon taking office in January, but in August a federal judge mandated reinstatement of the program after ruling on a lawsuit filed by the states of Texas and Missouri. 

On October 29, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas released a 40-page memo justifying the reasons for cancelling MPP, explaining that MPP imposed “substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.” He concluded that “there are inherent problems with the program that no amount of resources can sufficiently fix.” In spite of this memo, DHS is being forced to comply with the federal ruling and announced that it will likely reinstate the program “in the coming weeks.”  

Judge Sends Ex-PAC Accused of Rape of Achi Women to Trial

Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ruled that Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado must stand trial for the rape of two Achi women–sisters Margarita and Inocenta Alvarado Enríquez–that occurred in Baja Verapaz during the internal armed conflict. Alvarado faces charges for crimes against humanity, rape, and suppression and alteration of identity. The former member of the Civil Defense Patrol (exPAC) is one of five ex-PAC facing charges for their involvement in the Achi Women case; on March 25 Galvez ordered Damian Cuxum Alvarado and brothers Donaldo and Benvenuto Ruis Aquino to stand trial.

Journalist Anastasia Mejia Wins Committee to Protect Journalists’ Annual Award

The Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Maya K’iche journalist Anastasia Mejia a prestigious Freedom of the Press Awards. As a journalist in Joyabaj, Mejia has faced threats and criminalization  from Mayor Florencio Carrascoza–named on the Engel List for corruption–for her work exposing criminal networks in the municipality. In September 2020, she was arrested on trumped-up charges and spent five weeks in prison before being sent to house arrest. On September 3, with no evidence to link her to the supposed crimes, all charges were dropped against her and the case against her was dismissed. GHRC accompanied Mejia throughout this legal process and continues to support her vital work. We give our sincerest congratulations to our partner for her well-deserved recognition.  

Supreme Court Removes Immunity of  Congressman Aldo Davila

On November 17, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled to remove the immunity of Congressman Aldo Davila to allow the Public Ministry to open a case against him regarding an altercation from 2020 where he allegedly assaulted a police officer during a demonstration. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office,“The behavior of the denounced official could be framed as a crime of abuse of authority, because using his position as a congressman and abusing his position, he carried out arbitrary acts against a public employee…by pushing and uttering words of discrimination against an agent of the National Civil Police.” 

Davila condemned the decision as “political, spurious, and illegitimate” and called out the Public Ministry for its selective prosecution against opposition leaders, human rights defenders and journalists while protecting political allies. Independent judges Erika Aifan and Pablo Xitumul have faced similar attacks against them as processes to remove their judicial immunities are underway. Meanwhile human rights defenders and journalists–without any sort of legal immunity–are left even more vulnerable to criminalization for their work denouncing corruption and human rights abuses and defending their right to life and territory.