Weekly News Round-up, April 6-15

Displaced Polochic Families Deliver Petition to Pérez Molina

Representatives of the over 700 families from the Polochic Valley who have been displaced since 2011 requested a meeting with President Pérez Molina Thursday to present a petition. The petition, signed by 80,000 people from 50 different countries, asks the government to comply with its promise to find land for the displaced families and to take steps to implement the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission to alleviate their precarious living situation. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also asked that the State of Guatemala guarantee respect for the rights of the evicted Polochic families.

26 Arrests in San Rafael Las Flores
On April 11, 26 community members who were part of the peaceful resistance movement in San Rafael Las Flores were arrested. Early reports suggests the arrests were illegal because the protesters were on private property with permission of the owner, and the authorities entered without a warrant. Furthermore, the accused were injured during the arrest and then forced to wait seven hours before seeing a judge.

The protest were in response to the Guatemalan Minister of Energy and Mines’ approval of a mining license for the Escobal mine in San Rafael Las Flores on April 3. The decision came shortly after four Xinca activists were abducted while returning from a community referendum in which residents voted almost unanimously against the construction of the mine. Appeals to Attorney General Claudia Paz by international human rights and environmental groups assert the illegality of the license and demand investigation into the violence that surrounds it.

Peaceful Demonstrations in Santa Cruz Barillas
On April 7, approximately 400 people joined in a peaceful protest of the Hidro Santa Cruz hydroelectric dams in Santa Cruz Barillas. Participants blocked the roadway to the site. Radio Santa Cruz reported 14 police vehicles and about 80 riot police present at the demonstration.  spokesperson for Hidro Santa Cruz alleged that the builders of the wall been sent from surrounding towns and the capital without support from the local community. Communities around the dam have been in opposition 

Community Leaders Denounce Exploitation from a “Ghost” Mine
Community leaders have testified that a “ghost mine”  has been carrying out exploitative mining and labor practices in Jutiapa for the past three months. When workers of the mine began to demand more information from the mining company, particularly about the owners, they were dismissed. Workers then brought their case to the authorities who investigated and discovered that there had never been neither a request for nor an issuing of a permit to mine in that area.

How the global gold frenzy negatively impacts Guatemala’s indigenous communities
A new documentary film entitled “Gold Fever” premiered in Guatemala City on April 18. The film shows the devastating impact of the gold mining operations in Guatemala and focuses on the Goldcorp-operated Marlin Mine in San Miguel Ixtahuacán. The article also mentions the recent incidents of violence against human rights activists as a result of mining conflicts as well as last week’s arrest of 29 protesters from San Rafael Las Flores.

New Military base in Ciudad Quetzal
President Pérez Molina announced the installation of a new military base in Ciudad Quetzal in order to quell rising levels of violence. The installation, he claimed, is a response to the community’s requests for heightened security. Pérez Molina also announced heightened security measures in 25 municipalities at high risk for violence.

The US will donate vehicles to combat drug trafficking
In an attempt to combat narcotrafficking and transnational organized crime, the United States will give Guatemala 42 vehicles during the visit by General Frederick S. Rudesheim. The US has given Guatemala $9.2 million for personal equipment and $10.71 million for the construction of a base  to support the operations of the Task Force Tecún Umán.

Violence against Women
According to records by the National Statistics Institute (INE), the department of El Progreso had the highest percentage of reports of violence against women in 2012. The INE also found that, between January 2011 and February 2013, the police confirmed 19 femicides, 5 of which occurred in January 2013 alone. Domestic violence was the most prevalent form of violence during the 13-month period.

Media Coverage of the Genocide Trial

US Ambassador Chacón, who attended the trial for the first time this week, expressed support for credible, transparent, and impartial judicial processes for the accused.

Expert witness testimonies from the defense began this week

  • On April 9th, Colonel Carlos Méndez Tejada testified that the mandate of President Ríos Montt did not include directing operations of the military, although he could give orders. When asked whether Ríos Montt could order psychological actions against the population, the witness responded that if he did give those orders, he must have had his reasons.
  • Former general Luis Ayuso, on the other hand, confirmed in court that Ríos Montt had ordered the creation and implementation of Plan Victoria 82. While he contradicted himself at first, after a series of questions the general ultimately affirmed that the head of the army was the primary person to order the plan’s execution. Meanwhile, exhumations were being made throughout the Ixil Triangle by forensic anthropologists to supplement the case.
  • Expert witnesses details of displacement and disappearances; military’s excesses One expert witness, Marco Tulio Alvarez, confirmed that 11% of the 45,000 disappeared persons were minors. He also added that the Sofia Plan focused on four specific points targeting children for the purpose of eliminating the seeds of future guerrillas. For the prosecution, Ramon Cadena, of the International Association of Jurists, testified to the military’s violation of proportionality, and labeled the civilian population as an internal enemy.

CNN coverage of the trial implies some US responsibility
CNN covered the trial in significant detail and emphasized criticisms of the role of US government, particularly the Reagan administration, for financially supporting the genocide. It also emphasizes the importance of the trial in bringing the genocide into public discourse. An interview with Claudia Paz y Paz provides further background on the progress of the trial.

Read daily updates on www.riosmontt-trial.org.

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