Former GHRC Director Patricia Davis recently published an article for The Nation about the radical changes occurring within Guatemalan civil society. After months of mass protests throughout Guatemala, citizens emerged victorious in September when they ousted their President on fraud charges. This is a major turning point for Guatemalan civil society, but “in their view, the struggle has just begun.” The momentum of these protests and the results it has yielded is momentum enough for Guatemalan citizens to continue to seek the best leadership possible and to defend their human rights. Still, Davis reminds us that what happens next for Guatemala relies on the September and October elections as well as the role that the international community decides to play within the country.
In an article recently published by Foreign Policy In Focus, GHRC Board Member Jesse Franzblau describes the rise and fall of Guatemala’s ex-President Otto Perez Molina and his much-awaited trial. After months of mass protests, in early September, Guatemalan Congress voted to end the former president’s immunity from prosecution. The following day, Perez was ousted from his position as President. Franzblau writes that “It is a striking blow to the wall of impunity that surrounds the county’s most powerful figures – and in this case, one of the most feared as well.” While Perez may be awaiting trial on fraud charges, the former President has committed even worse crimes.
Franzblau explains Perez Molina’s military involvement in Guatemala’s internal armed conflict dating back to the 1970s. During Guatemala’s internal armed conflict, Perez committed “numerous human rights atrocities and political murders.” Backed by U.S. military intelligence agencies and security forces, Guatemalan military officers committed heinous dehumanizing acts including torture, disappearances, and executions. Throughout this time, Perez rose through the army ranks and was a part of an airborne troop that carried out counterinsurgency operations at the height of the violence in July and August of 1982.
On Monday, the businessman accused with participating in the customs fraud scam known as La Linea, told the court that “half the bribes in the scam were paid to the former leader and his ex vice president.” Salvador Estuardo Gonzalez acted as an accountant for the entire fraud scam that ended with the resignation of former Guatemalan vice president Roxana Baldetti and President Otto Perez. In June, Gonzalez was arrested along with 28 other La Linea suspects and investigators claim that he was one of the key operators in the scam. Gonzalez backs up official allegations that Perez and Baldetti heavily profited from this scheme in which importers paid bribes to avoid customs duties. Both Baldetti and Perez await trial in jail and still deny any wrongdoing.
La Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, better known for its Spanish acronym CICIG, was a big actor in the removal of Guatemala’s ex-president Otto Perez, ex-vice president Roxana Baldetti, and many other corrupt individuals in the administration. On Monday, the Organization of American States (OAS) said that it will create a similar organization to monitor and tackle corruption and impunity in Honduras. Along with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the secretary-general of OAS, Luis Almagro, presented the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH as its Spanish acronym). Leaders hope to make this an effective legal tool to support the Honduran justice system and punish corrupt individuals.
Recently, the ecological disaster plaguing La Pasión River in Sayaxche, Guatemala has made it to larger international news sources. CCTV America sent a correspondent to Guatemala to investigate what is killing the river’s fish. According to correspondent Harris Whitbeck, locals suspect an African palm processing plant as the source of this disaster. The United Nations reports that this plant was in violation of many environmental regulations and has shut down. Still, the consequences of the plant are astonishing as the once fresh water river is now wrought with pollution.
GHRC and partners initiated an urgent action to support the teacher killed in relation to the Pasion river case. Please sign on if you have not already.