News Update: October 19-25

Constitutional Court asks lower courts to reconsider Montt for amnesty

A judicial spokesman for Guatemala’s Constitutional Court told Spanish news agency EFE on Wednesday that a court ruling this week (which has not yet been made public) opens the door to amnesty to former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. According to Prensa Libre, the court decision recommended that the case against Rios Montt be dropped, suggesting that he could be protected under a now-defunct 1986 amnesty law made by Guatemala’s then-military regime. Plaza Publica clarifies that the Court only found that Judge Carol Patricia Flores should assess the extent of the 1986 amnesty decree, but did not endorse it.

In a public hearing at the Constitutional Court on Thursday, human rights Prosecutor Érick Geovani de León Morataya denied that Article 8 of the National Reconciliation Law could apply to charges of genocide. He said that Montt and his defense were attempting to use these protections as a means to stall the process.

Read the GHRC statement on the Constitutional Court ruling here.

Independent news channel attacked

On Saturday, October 19, unidentified gunman shot and killed Viltor Garcia, the bodyguard for Karina Rottman, who heads the independent cable news channel VEA Canal. This channel is known for its criticism of the Pérez Molina administration and allots time to individuals and organizations that oppose the government, touching on issues such as: land rights, resource exploitation, and indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) movements. Rottman says this was the second attack against her in two weeks. This year, there have been more than 80 attacks and threats against journalists.

Government gives land to Polochic families

Last weekend, President Pérez Molina handed over land titles to 140 of the 769 families evicted from Valle del Polochic, Panzós, Alta Verapaz. Despite this positive step, many families still do not have land and many maintain that land alone is not enough without the provision for basic services.

Around Q4 million ($500.000) will be given to development projects to help the relocated families. The projects will have to be approved by the communities and could be focused on livestock or agriculture. Daniel Pascual, a community leader, said that the development projects have to be conducted with an analysis of the soil in order to know what crops can be harvested.

Indigenous women face pressure to drop Canadian case

The plaintiffs in the Choc v. Hudbay mineral case — a lawsuit filed against Hudbay over the gang rape of 11 women — are reporting harassment from the local subsidiary company, Compania Gautemaltecta de Niquel (CGN). CGN workers reportedly have been pressuring the women to drop their lawsuit against Hudbay by threatening to withhold land from others in the community or file criminal defamation charges against the women.

Guatemala remembers conflict victims as new battles ignite over resources

This Guardian piece reflects on victims of Guatemala’s internal conflict in light of new struggles by indigenous groups to resist mega projects and retain land and water rights.

Guatemalans march on anniversary of the 1944 revolution

Last Sunday, thousands marched in Guatemala City to mark the 69th anniversary of the 1944 revolution and the beginning of the 10-year-long “democratic spring.” Protesters called for a new revolution of “attitudes and behavior,” claiming that the original causes behind the war still exist and voicing their complaints about Pérez Molina’s administration and the business sector. 100 union, student, campesino, indigenous and political organizations participated; main topics included violence against women, land issues, and labor rights.

Human rights activists file complaint

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will have two hearings on Monday morning at the Organization of American States in Washington, DC, after receiving many complaints from human rights activists. The first hearing will address human rights and social protest and the second hearing will address the situation of human rights activists in Guatemala. The hearings can be followed via www.cidh.org and http://www.youtube.com/ComisionIDH.

Two helicopters will patrol the city to support police operations

In an effort to help detain criminals and respond to emergencies, Guatemala Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla eagerly announced a new project which will use helicopters to patrol the streets. The helicopters will also be used at night and will collaborate with the police to help reduce drug trafficking and terrorism.

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