News Update: April 16 – May 2

Genocide Trial Update: On April 18, just as the genocide trial seemed to be coming to a close, a slew of legal challenges surrounding previous unresolved decisions temporarily halted the trial’s progress. Judge Flores, who presides over the Constitutional Court, ruled in agreement with the defense attorneys’ claim that the trial should be annulled. Judge Barrios rejected the decision, however, and the case went up for reconsideration. Now, while some but not all of the legal questions have been resolved, the trial continues where it left off on April 18. Both defendants’ defense teams have been reorganized numerous times until, as it stands, Ríos Montt is left with Francisco Garcia Guidel, his attorney at the start of the trial. Rodriguez Sanchez has been appointed a new public defender, Oscar Ramirez.

It remains unclear what direction the trial will go. Potentially, if the defense doesn’t make further attempts to stall the process, the final witnesses could be called and and final statements made. Considering the still-unresolved legal questions in the Constitutional Court, however, problems can still arise. For daily and comprehensive updates, we recommend the Rios Montt trial blog or CALDH. For further background on the case’s progression, check out our trial timeline.

On April 7th, Daniel Pedro disappeared on his way to host an indigenous rights workshop in Santa Cruz Barillas. One week later, he was found murdered with evidence of torture. Kidnappers had asked his family ransom for his safe return, but before they could raise enough money, Daniel was found dead. Many believe Daniel’s death is linked to his environmental activism, particularly surrounding the hydroelectric project in Santa Cruz Barillas. The national police have arrested one man suspected for involvement in the kidnapping, but the case remains open.

Indigenous and campesino groups raise agrarian concerns
On April 17, Communities from Ixcán, Quiché; El Estor, Izabal; Retalhueleu and Cobán, Altaverapaz, marched to demand solutions to agrarian conflicts. Among the issues discussed were fertilizer distribution, access to land, poisonous cannery industry practices, and improved dialogue between indigenous farmers and state entities.

Armed attack against members of the peaceful resistance in San Rafael Las Flores
On April 27, 2013, security guards for the San Rafael mine opened fire against 8 members of the Pacific Resistance “El Escobal”, injuring them all. Yuri Melini, representative of the Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action (CALAS), said that the community has identified the person who gave the order to attack. They have also made an official complaint locally and at the Public Prosecutor’s Office. On April 29, 2013, the mayor of San Rafael and the mining company Tahoe Resources signed an agreement to increase royalties to 5%.

Today, Perez Molína declared a state of siege in the municipalities of Jalapa and Mataquescuintla in Jalapa and Casillas and San Rafael Las Flores in Santa Rosa as a result of ongoing confrontations between security guards, police and community protestors. 40 arrest warrants have reportedly been issued and 10 people have been detained so far. 

Polochic families and supporters gather outside presidential palace
About 500 campesinos and community leaders gathered April 22 outside the presidential palace to demand that the Guatemalan government fulfill its promise to provide land for the 769 families that were violently evicted from the Polochic Valley in 2011. Several weeks ago the group requested a meeting with the president for that day so that they could hand over a petition with more than 100 thousand signatures. The Pérez Molina did not meet with them due to “scheduling problems.”

Molína announces land sale to Corredor Tecnológico
During a visit to Teculután, Zapaca, Molína announced that 3,533 people have signed an intent to sell their land to investors for the construction of a train, two ports, and two oil pipelines. The cost of the land will total some $372 million, and sale will take less than 6 years to complete. Supporters of the project hope it will rival the Panama Canal in size and importance.

State Department funding to Guatemala to increase significantly in 2014
The 2014 State Department budget will feature some major changes in terms of funding Latin American countries will receive to help them in the fight against drug-trafficking. The new budget cut a significant amount to Colombia and will allocate more to several Central American countries, including Guatemala. Guatemala, which currently receives $500,000 from the State Department, will now get $1.7 million. Additionally, the State Department recently released a report cautioning Guatemala on the inability of its justice system to ensure respect for human rights.

OHCHR study highlights indigenous marginalization
A study published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the human rights situation of Guatemala’s indigenous population is one of the worst in the region. The study found that land is the source of many of the problems in Guatemala. Indigenous lands were expropriated during Colonial times, razed during the internal armed conflict, and are now being exploited for the extraction of natural resources. The study finds that this situation is conducive to social unrest, intimidation, and attacks against those who stand up against the corruption.

Youth violence, teen pregnancy and malnutrition are particularly problematic. Malnutrition affects more than half of Guatemalan children under age 5 .

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