Guatemala News Update: January 20-24

Conflicts Intensify over Hydroelectric Dams in Guatemala: Department of Energy Registers 31 Active Disputes

During this past year, conflicts over the issues of hydroelectric power and mining have intensified across Guatemala, with some entire communities rejecting the implementation of megaprojects on their lands. The current Government has positioned itself as the principal promoter of hydroelectric plants in the country, with 45 proposed projects.

On Thursday, January 23, three anti-dam activists from Santa Cruz Barillas were arrested in near-by Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango. Although they were released a few hours later, the unexpected arrest raises concerns that it was a political act to discourage further resistance. Meanwhile, almost two years after the government announced a plan to re-launch construction of a dam in Xalalá, community opposition to the project remains strong.

Justice for Chixoy Dam Victims

In the 1970s and 1980s, international financial institutions partnered with repressive regimes in Guatemala to construct the Chixoy Dam project, which resulted in the displacement thousands of Mayan peasants and a series of brutal massacres which left hundreds dead. In a historic move, the U.S. Congress has included in the 2014 Appropriations Bill a requirement that the World Bank and the IDB work toward reparations for the communities affected by the Chixoy Dam.

Guatemala Rejects IACHR Accusations Regarding Death of Mayan Leader

The Guatemalan government rejected an accusation made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that Mayan Community Leader Juan de León Tuyuc was killed by a firearm, stating that the IACHR used “unofficial” information in its report. The official IACHR statement is available here.

Constitution Indicates that Attorney General Paz y Paz Should Remain in Office Until December

Amid a debate about when the Attorney General’s term concludes, el Periódico explains why, legally, Claudia Paz y Paz should remain in office until her term ends in December 2013. Paz y Paz has been lauded nationally and internationally for her work, particularly for advancing emblematic human rights prosecutions, as well as her success in prosecuting members of organized criminal groups.

President Pérez Molina’s Second Annual Address

President Pérez Molina gave his second “state of the union” address on Sunday at the National Theater, focusing his speech on Hambre Cero, the program to combat the country’s debilitating malnutrition problem. Despite claims of improvement, the malnutrition rate among children actually increased between 2012 and 2013. Coverage of the address has been overshadowed by an incident at the event´s conclusion, when white powder – later determined to be lime – was thrown into the Vice President´s face.

UNDP Regional Director Notes Guatemala’s Crackdown on Crime Has Failed

At the “Citizen Security with a Human Face” presentation, the UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean stated that the “crackdown on crime” in certain nations, including Guatemala, has failed.  The Guatemalan President and Interior Minister refuted the statement, arguing that the number of violent deaths has decreased. Guatemala has increased the use of the military in public security and policing, and has used martial law to address conflict.

Trial Begins for 2011 Drug Massacre

In May of 2011, members of the Mexico-based Los Zetas drug cartel carried out a massacre on Guatemalan farm workers. The attack was part of an ongoing conflict with Guatemalan drug trafficker Otto Salguero, who owned the farm where the massacre took place. The trial began Monday, Jan. 20, and according to Univision, a protected witness took the stand to detail the horrific acts that took place. Two Mexicans and seven Guatemalans face trial.

Worker’s Rights Violations by Alianza Fashion Factory

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights released a report on the Alianza Fashion Factory, which shut down last March, noting that it violated human rights codes by paying workers less than minimum wage and illegally firing those who took preliminary steps toward unionization. The company supplied clothing to well-known retailers at Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Kohl’s. The report also blamed the Guatemalan government’s corruption as a factor behind the company’s violations.

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