Guatemala’s 2015 General Elections: Updates

Despite the recent resignation of Otto Pérez Molina, a deepening political crises, and calls for the postponement of general elections, Guatemalans are gearing up for election day on September 6 — so far are set to move forward as planned.

In addition to the presidential election, Guatemalans will also be voting for all 158 congress people and mayors in every city. Here, interestingly, the slate of candidates includes a number of people who come not from partisan political backgrounds but from Guatemala’s historic social movements and indigenous leadership structures.

The pool of candidates for president, though, has left voters feeling deflated, and analysts estimate that there will be high rates of absenteeism and “null” votes. (Null votes are used as a purely symbolic statement of dissent, given that a single vote can decide an election.)

Of the 14 parties that have launched presidential candidates, a handful have emerged as the most popular in polls:

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Campaign advertisement for Baldizón. Photo: InfoLatAm

Manuel Baldizón (president) and Edgar Barquín (vice president)
[Party: Renewed Democratic Liberty (LIDER)]

Baldizón is rumored to be engaged in illicit activity in Petén, though he is not under investigation. He has been an outspoken critic of the CICIG, which is currently investigating his vice-presidential candidate, Edgar Barquín, for criminal conspiracy, influence trafficking and money laundering.

Jimmy Morales (president) and Jafet Cabrera Franco (vice president)
[Party: National Convergence Front (FCN)]

Morales is a professional comedian with no experience in politics, yet his presidential campaign and has become very popular in polls. A candidate with the FCN party, he presents himself as a “new option,” but is funded in part by hard-liners in the Guatemalan military. Morales has also been linked to Byron Lima, a former military captain currently serving a sentence for the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi and who is now accused of criminal conspiracy and influence trafficking from within prison.

Sandra Torres (president) and Mario Leal (vice president)
[Party: National Union of Hope (UNE)]

Sandra Torres has been called the “least worst” by some. Of the center-left UNE party, she was first lady during President Colom’s administration, 2008-2012; she forged a divorce in order to run for president in 2011 but was barred. Her vice-presidential running mate is also under investigation for criminal activity.

Zury Rios (president) and Juan Luis Mirón (vice president)
[Party: Vision with Values (VIVA)]

Ríos is the daughter of military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, accused of overseeing a campaign of genocide and war crimes in the early 1980s. As the family member of a participant in a military coup, her candidacy is technically illegal.

Roberto González (president) and Rodolfo Neutze Aguirre (vice president)
[Party: CREO-UNIONISTA]

González is a former energy minister who is currently facing charges for alleged influence trafficking.

Guatemala News Update, August 24-28: 100,000 Join Protest in Guatemala City

Thousands Join Protest; Call for Resignation of Otto Pérez Molina

A general strike was called on Thursday, August 27 as an estimated 100,000 people gathered in Guatemala City’s central plaza to call for the resignation of President Pérez Molina, an end to corruption, and postponement of the upcoming elections. Many schools and businesses closed yesterday to allow for participation in the protest, and, in the end, Guatemala’s powerful business lobby — CACIF — also supported the strike.

The protest — the biggest yet in a series of mass mobilizations held over the last 17 weeks — comes just after President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named last week as the head of “La Linea,” a tax fraud scheme used to defraud the State of what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Baldetti was arrested on August 21 and is being charged with criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Pérez Molina, who has reiterated that he will not step down and has already survived one attempt from congress to strip him of his immunity from prosecution, is also implicated in the corruption network. Once again, Guatemala’s top court ruled on August 25 to accept a petition to repeal the president’s immunity, and the matter now awaits a decision from congress.

Protest-Aug27“It was incredible to feel the energy of everyone present,” said Dania Rodríguez, GHRC’s interim director of the Guatemala office. “The plaza was filled with families, students, representatives from the government and business sectors, artists, and indigenous authorities from different departments. People began arriving at 8:00 am, with many people staying until after 10:00 pm at night. “

Demonstrators used the space to call for the resignation of the president, holding signs that read “Yo no tengo presidente” (I don’t have a president) and “Renuncia Ya” (Step Down). The Attorney General’s office, the National Council of Bishops and the government comptroller’s office have also urged the president to resign.

“However, others,” Dania explained, “made calls for comprehensive government reform, for the possibility of a transitional government, for reforms to electoral law, and for the postponement of the national elections scheduled for September 6.”

To read more from GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones about concerns around the upcoming elections, click here. The protests were also covered by Democracy Now and were the subject of Al Jazeera’s August 27 episode of The Stream.

Genocide Retrial is Set for Guatemalan Former Dictator

On August 25, judges ruled that the re-trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez will move forward. On August 18, Montt was diagnosed with “incurable” dementia — the culmination of a series of psychiatric evaluations that had delayed the trial for weeks and threatened to shut down the case. Despite the fact that Montt is unable to appear in court, a closed-door trial will move forward with witnesses (but will not be open to the public). Judges also ordered that the physician who has been treating Montt be investigated for possible medical negligence and for potentially endangering his life.

Montt’s legal team will represent him in court, and the next hearing is set for January 11, 2016.

Earlier in August, GHRC Executive Director spoke about the case on Latin Pulse radio.

Corruption Investigations Implicate President; Guatemalans Urge Reforms Before Elections

BarramosCorruption-N.Rivera(A version of this article by Kelsey Alford-Jones was first published by TeleSUR)

Investigations into corruption in Guatemala have expanded to the highest levels of government as President Otto Pérez Molina and his former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named on Friday as the head of “La Linea,” a criminal structure that has been robbing an unknown amount — but what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars — from the State. Baldetti, who resigned on May 8, is in police custody, and will face prosecution for criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Guatemala’s top court also approved a process to repeal the president’s immunity from prosecution, and the matter now awaits a decision from the congress.

These investigations have spurred massive and sustained protests calling for the president’s resignation and represents a historic opportunity to bring about meaningful reform in a moment when the nation is on the verge of institutional collapse. With unprecedented momentum building to address unbridled government corruption and impunity, the biggest impediment to successful reform may be the September 6 elections.

Corruption Exposed

The move to bring the president and vice president to justice is only the latest development in a series of corruption scandals that have linked numerous high-level public officials, and all major political parties, to corruption and other illicit activities. In May alone, seven different government ministers resigned or were fired, many under investigation for charges ranging from granting anomalous contracts and influence trafficking, to criminal conspiracy and fraud. This week, numerous cabinet members resigned, including at least five more government ministers. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 17-24

Guatemala President Balks at Calls for Resignation

With just weeks until Guatemala’s general elections, public prosecutors and the CICIG revealed that they have uncovered enough evidence to place President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti at the top of a tax fraud scandal that has rocked the country since mid-April. Baldetti was arrested on August 21.

The announcement prompted another wave of resignations from government ministers; however, President Pérez Molina again rejected calls for his resignation in a public statement on Sunday.

Guatemalans Say Reforms Needed Before Any Future Election

In this opinion piece, GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones discusses Guatemala’s current political context, ponders what might happen next in the country, and explains the risks of moving forward with elections without much-needed reforms.

A related article also highlights the dismal conditions for holding Guatemala’s presidential election.

Doctors say Guatemala ex-dictator Rios Montt has dementia

On August 18, a team of medical evaluators ruled that Ríos Montt suffers from “incurable” dementia, a development which could prevent Montt from ever again facing trial. This was the final decision in a series of psychiatric evaluations of Montt that has delayed the trial for weeks. In a hearing is set for August 25, judges will decide whether or not the retrial will move forward. Continue reading

2014 State Department Human Rights Report Identifies Numerous Challenges for Guatemala

By Jason Mann, GHRC Summer 2015 Intern

rio_negro_04_smallOn June 25, 2015 Secretary of State John Kerry announced the release of the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014. This includes the Guatemala 2014 Human Rights Report, which details some of the many human rights violations and concerns that GHRC works to prevent and document. The report is broken down into seven sections, ranging from concerns for the respect of physical rights to the protection of workers’ rights, and provides a brief look into some of the many injustices that Guatemalans faced last year:

Militarization and security

  • The military was used for internal security purposes and was involved in serious abuses including kidnapping, drug trafficking, extortion, and femicide.
  • Members of the National Civil Police (PNC) were involved in various incidents of abuse and corruption, and were severely undertrained and underfunded.
  • In June 2014, former PNC Chief Erwin Sperinsen was sentenced to life in prison in a Swiss court for the killing of one inmate and involvement in six other homicide cases in 2006.
  • Also in June police arrested three PNC officers for the raping of a minor while she was being held in a juvenile detention facility in Quiche.
  • The Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP) accused nine PNC officers of homicide as of September 2014.
  • The PNC’s Office of Professional Responsibility reported 1,104 complaints of abuse filed against police forces in the first nine months of 2014.

Truth and Justice

  • Former Dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide in May 2013, but the Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on procedural grounds, and as of the end of 2014 the case had not restarted.
  • Former army officers Esteelmer Reyes and Heriberto Valdez were arrested for murder, forced disappearance, and sexual abuse while they were in charge of the Sepur Zarco military base in the department of Izabal during 1982-1983.
  • Judicial branch workers had been the victims of 171 threats and acts of intimidation against them by the end of September of 2014.
  • Trials were almost always held in Spanish although many indigenous people charged with crimes do not speak the language.

Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 4-7

‘Obnoxious’ La Puya Members Will Not Make the Gold Mine Go Away, CEO Says

Vice News

Vice News

In a Vice News article, Jeff Abbott reports on the recent victory won by La Puya in a local Guatemalan court and his interview with Dan Kappes, CEO of mining company Kappes, Cassiday, & Associates (KCA), while on his recent trip to Guatemala.

Despite the court’s ruling that KCA had obtained an invalid construction license and its order for the company to suspend all construction at El Tambor within 15 days, Kappes stated in the interview that, “the construction license is a moot point.” In addition to claiming that the company had in fact carried out a consultation with the community, Kappes also asserted: “I guess the protesters think that if they are obnoxious enough, the mine will go away.”

Leading up to the 15-day deadline, GHRC delivered an open letter to KCA with over 2,200 signatures, demanding that the company comply with the court decision. Despite these actions, KCA has as of now decided to continue operations at the mine.

GHRC will continue to support La Puya, and urge KCA to abide by Guatemalan law.

5 Guatemalan Soldiers Detained Following Leaked Video

Police in Guatemala have detained five soldiers on abuse of authority charges after a video circulated on social media showing them beating two teenagers. The incident occurred on July 26 after an army patrol received a report from neighbors that the minors in the video were allegedly drinking and assaulting people, according to army spokesperson Hugo Rodriguez. The video shows the five soldiers repeatedly kicking the boys in the stomach, slapping them, and pulling them off the ground by their hair, among other forms of abuse. According to the article, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) opened an investigation of the two soldiers, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that it will also initiate an investigation.

Land Rights Victory for Poqomchi’ Community in Alta Verapaz

Upside Down World

Upside Down World

Nearly 300 Poqomchi’ Maya families residing in the Primavera communities of Alta Verapaz have won a significant victory in their fight for land rights. On July 14, community representatives and the Guatemalan Land Fund signed documents to officially recognize three communities as the owners of the approximately 800 hectares of land where they have been residing for over 200 years.

The Secretary of Agrarian Affairs oversaw the titling of the land to the communities, after the land had been occupied by Maderas Filips Dias/Eco-Tierra, a logging company, and various other transnational companies harvesting palm oil and sugar cane without the consent of the community. Continue reading

Human Rights Convergence Denounces Intimidation Against CALAS

The Human Rights Convergence stands in solidarity with the Center for Legal Action in Environment and Social Issues (CALAS) in the wake of recent acts of intimidation toward the organization. On July 29, an unknown man fired a series of gunshots in front of the CALAS offices. The event occurred just one day before the organization was scheduled to participate in an evidentiary hearing in order to bring the former head of security for the San Rafael mine, Alberto Rotondo, to trial for violence against community members. The Convergence is calling for a criminal investigation into these acts, and holding mining company Tahoe Resources accountable for both acts of intimidation against CALAS and acts of violence against residents who opposed the mine.

Leer el cominicado en español:

La Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos Frente a la intimidación a CALAS Manifiesta

El Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social de Guatemala –CALAS–, organización de la Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos, el 29 de julio de 2015 fue objeto de actos de intimidación, en tanto que en horas de la noche, un hombre desconocido en motocicleta realizó una serie de disparos frente a la sede de dicha organización.

Este acto intimidatorio contra de CALAS se da un día previo a que se celebrara la audiencia de ofrecimiento de prueba con el objeto de llevar a juicio al señor Alberto Rotondo, quien en su calidad de gerente de seguridad de la Mina San Rafael violentara la integridad física de comunitarios del municipio de San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa, Guatemala. Continue reading