News Update: May 23-30

Ex-president Portillo On Trial in New York

Portillo is facing charges of conspiracy to launder $70,000. Defense lawyers insist  that “our position has been that it is an illegal extradition, and still is.” Meanwhile, Portillo himself continues to deny the allegations, saying that it is a revenge scheme of conservative Americans to get back at him for refusing to support the US’s invasion of Iraq. The embezzlement schemes include one which involved $1.5 million intended for Guatemalan school children.

Abuses of Women in San Rafael Las Flores Denounced by the Alliance of Women

In its initial report on the state of siege in San Rafael las Flores, the Alliance of Women’s Policy Branch denounced the challenges facing wives of Xinca parliament leaders, and soldiers’ harassment of women and young girls in the region. Lorena Cabal of the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán says the women have no access to medical care, and must struggle with tremendous workloads while the men negotiate in meetings all day. A complaint filed in Mataquesculinta states that soldiers stationed outside a primary school had been sexually harassing young girls.

High rates of Unwanted Pregnancies Point to Increased Sexual Violence Against Women

In the first 2 months of 2013, the Ministry of Health registered 223 reports of unwanted pregnancies of girls between the ages of 10 and 14. Last year, of the 3,000 reported pregnancies of girls 10-14, 1,800 complaints were filed.  Only 50 were investigated and resulted in convictions. Officials cite higher incidents of rape, particularly in the regions Petén, Jutiapa, Huehuetenango, and Alta Verapaz. The Ministry of Health has announced plans to strengthen its office of women to combat the violence, and calls on international donors to support the new policies.

Maya Mam Council Demand a Hault on Mining Projects

Leaders and members of the Maya Mam Saqtx’otx’ Chinab’jul Council, formed by residents of the 13 municipalities of Huehuetenango, have demanded that the government stop forcing mining projects on their communities. The request, which states that unwanted mining projects threaten and undermine their territory and its natural resources, was made during the third anniversary of the declaration of a mining-free region. The Council also demanded that the persecution against people who oppose these projects stop immediately.

Amnesty International’s 2013 Human Rights Report Released

Amnesty International released their annual report rights for 2013, detailing the state of human rights in Guatemala. Overall, the report brought attention to the topics of corporate accountability, impunity, indigenous peoples’ rights, and the continued persecution of human rights defenders in the country.

Perez Molina’s Approval Rate Falls

President Otto Pérez Molina’s approval rating has fallen 20% since May 2012. In a survey taken by Gallup, citizens listed unemployment and violence as the country’s two most pressing problems.  When asked if they believed Guatemala was on the right track, 70% of respondents answered unfavorably.  However, regardless of these results, the President currently holds a 58% approval rating as a public figure.

Trial Update: Following the overturning of Ríos Montt’s conviction, protesters marched throughout Latin America to denounce the decision to annul the genocide trial. Protests occurred Argentina, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Guatemala, among others. Ríos Montt’s defense team has since come up with a new strategy for challenging the verdict, alleging Article 8 of the 1996 National Reconciliation Act is unconstitutional and should therefore terminate criminal prosecution against him. The defense also claim that the international conventions that previously signed to punish human rights violations went into effect after Rios Montt served as head of state, and that furthermore, the convention does not specify genocide as crime that is legally punishable.

Plaza Publica interviewd Alan Narin about the trial, US intervention in the armed conflict, implications against Pérez Molína. Two letters to the editor appeared regarding recent NY Times op-eds on the genocide trial. Meanwhile, conversations among international press abound as La Hora covers the NY Times coverage of the genocide trial.

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