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Limitations on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights repealed
The executive branch announced on January 17th Government Agreement number 30-2013, which repealed an earlier decision to not recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on violations prior to February, 1987.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.

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