Guatemala News Update: November 9-15

Peasant farmers march for major reforms

On Wednesday, thousands of people from 20 departments marched for reforms concerning land and energy in Guatemala. Organized by the National Committee of Peasant Farmers, the marchers demanded land reform, nationalization of electricity, and a halt to mineral exploitation in their communities. In total, about 40,000 people participated, and the march lasted for seven hours. Smaller protests were also registered in other parts of the country.

Further delay in Ríos Montt trial

The First Board of Appeals’ Penal Branch cannot yet determine the merits of the final judgment made by the Constitutional Court regarding whether Decree Law 8-86 for amnesty applies to Efrain Ríos Montt. The Constitutional Court must send the document to the Supreme Court of Justice, which will then be sent on to the First Board. After the First Board receives the document, it will have five days to answer the Constitutional Court’s question on amnesty.

In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, Lauren Carasik expresses concern for the likelihood that these delays will allow Montt to avoid justice and incur financial and emotional costs for the victims, witnesses, and lawyers. She also discusses the illegitimacy of possible amnesty as well as the consequences that amnesty would have on Guatemala’s fragile justice system.

Community members in Jalapa say no to mining

On November 10, residents of Jalapa clarified their position against mining in the region in a community referendum that included over 46 voting centers throughout the urban center and rural mountain areas. 24,552 people voted in the referendum, representing a 37% turnout. The results were 23,152 votes against mining and 399 votes in support of mining.

NGOs demand annulment of oil license in Petén

NGOs are leading an international campaign to pressure President Pérez Molina and other government officials to annul the contract with the international oil company Perenco Guatemala Limited. In 2010, former president Colom granted Perenco 15-year rights to exploit oil reserves in the protected area of the Laguna del Tigre National Park, located in Petén. The campaign expresses concern not only about the deforestation of the Mayan biosphere, but also the human cost and displacement of local populations. They condemn the militarization of the region and the harassment, intimidation and threats the population there has suffered as a result of the project.  It is estimated that some 40,000 people and 37 communities will be affected.

Former army collaborators were arrested for forced disappearance

Two former collaborators of the Guatemalan army, accused of the forced disappearance of three community leaders in 1983, were arrested last week. The Mutual Support Group (GAM), which promoted the search for disappeared civilians during the civil war, stated that both José Castañeda Aparicio and Baltazar Milian Morales have had a warrant out for their arrests since 2005 and will be taken to court to determine their sentences.

Extrajudicial eviction in Cobán leaves casualties

On November 8th, an illegal eviction took place in the Xalaha Canguinic community in Alta Verapaz, Cobán, by the landowner Leonel Ponce, his son and 30 of his employees. Five peasants were wounded; one is in critical condition, and 30 houses were burned down. The Committee of Peasant Unity, CUC, condemns this repressive act and demands that government authorities put a stop to criminal acts against peasant families.

CALDH to host conference on Ríos Montt case

The Center for Human Rights Legal Action will host a conference November 14-15 titled “Justice in Transition: a look at the case against Ríos Montt and the experiences of post-conflict societies in search of truth and justice.” The objective of the conference is to analyze the Ríos Montt genocide trial from different perspectives of justice in transition, racism, sexual violence, the communications field, juridical certainty, and historical memory. Over 300 people from various organizations are expected to attend, including renowned lawyers from Argentina, the United States, Rwanda, and Guatemala. Some events will be streamed live.

CSJ presidential voting rounds continue

The Supreme Court of Justice is still trying to decide on a new leader for the 2013-2014 term. During the 38th extraordinary session, the justices participated in their 41st voting round. The results mirrored the previous ones: Gustavo Bonilla won 6 votes and Mynor Franco won 7.

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