Guatemala News Update: November 16 -22

Community leaders will be released after unjust imprisonment

Five community members from Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, who were illegally imprisoned for seven months, have succeeded in proving their innocence. On Thursday, a judge in Jalapa dismissed the charges against them due to lack of certainty and weakness of proof brought forth by the Public Prosecutor’s office. Communitaria Press calls this development “a victory for peaceful resistance,” as those imprisoned were criminalized for their resistance to the Escobal mine. Canadian-based Tahoe resources and it’s Guatemalan subsidiary San Rafael Mining have carried out recurring acts of violence against peaceful protesters, and the government has used its own institutions to support the company.

Meanwhile, Tahoe Resources recently announced that the company is ready to ramp up production at the Escobal silver mine. Though the company reported a net loss last quarter (the first quarter of production), its stocks rose following this announcement.

Public prosecutors want trial for military extrajudicial killings

The Public Prosecutor’s Office wants the Constitutional Court to revoke a prior decision to modify charges against eight military members, led by Col. Juan Chiroy Sal, involved in the killings of six people during the October 4, 2012 confrontation in Totonicapán. The eight men were originally charged with extrajudicial killing and attempted extrajudicial killing, but High Risk Court A Judge Patricia Flores reduced the charges. The lawyer for Chiroy Sal criticized both the prosecution for maintaining their original claim, as well as the protesters for committing actions of violence during the confrontation.

Third round of negotiations over Barillas ends without agreement

On November 18, community leaders, along with mayors of northern Huehuetenango, participated in a third round of negotiations with government representatives on the construction of the Santa Cruz Barillas dam. Unfortunately, the dialogue ended in a stalemate. While the community leaders want to see an end to construction, government representatives worry that doing so will, among other things, jeopardize legal certainty.

Barreda Facing Six Charges in Siekavizza Case

The process to try Roberto Barreda began on Wednesday. Barreda is the primary suspect in the 2011 disappearance of his wife, Cristina Siekavizza. Barreda fled with his children in August before being captured in Mexico on November 8. The Public Prosecutor’s Office is now charging him with femicide, child abuse, and obstruction of justice.

Indigenous groups criticize 2014 budget

Representatives of indigenous groups report that there is an “expression of economic racism and discrimination” in the 2014 state budget and that the allocated money underserves rural communities. Of the Q70,564 million budget, only Q46 million is directed towards the indigenous population. Similarly, women’s groups criticized the 2014 budget for reducing and eliminating funds directed towards dealing with, preventing, and charging violence against women.

Esquintla labeled as Guatemala’s new murder capital

According to InSight Crime, the department of Esquintla has become the most violent department in the country. 565 homicides were recorded up until the end of October. The department’s homicide rate is 77 per 100,000 inhabitants, and can potentially grow to 93 per 100,000 inhabitants by year’s end. InSight Crime believes that the province’s location and economic productivity make it a prime location for drug trafficking groups. Historically violent, Esquintla is also home to local criminal organizations and an infamous maximum-security prison. Understaffed police forces also remains a problem.

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