Guatemala News Update March 8-14

Under the Volcano: Mining conflicts in Guatemala erupting in violence

Tensions continue to grow over mineral exploitation in Guatemala. One mining resistance movement, extraordinary for its dedication to non-violence and its success to date, is La Puya. The movement celebrated its second anniversary on March 3rd. The movement has lessons to offer other movements in Guatemala, as well as environmental movements in the U.S. 

Backlash continues over hydroelectric projects in Guatemala

An estimated 20,000 people demonstrated in Guatemala City last week against a plan to expand energy projects throughout rural areas of Guatemala complaining that energy prices are too high and that hydroelectric projects would result in displacement and land seizures. Of 57 sources of conflict identified by the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, 17 are hydroelectric projects, including Chixoy and Xalalá. 

“There’s no justice for the people whose human rights were violated,” Kelsey Alford-Jones, executive director of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission USA, said. Major hydroelectric and mining projects are notorious for “corruption and rubber stamping of environmental impact reports,” which has “led to severe lack of trust in public institutions.”

Survivors remember victims of Río Negro Massacre

Carmen Sánchez, whose son Miguel was murdered in the Río Negro Massacre at three years old on May 14, 1982, remembers her son and other victims of the massacre that was the devastating result of the installation of the Chixoy Dam. Community members, including Carmen, knew there were conflicts related to the pending dam, but never thought the soldiers would come to Río Negro. Thirty-two years later, justice has still not come. Through the Appropriations Act passed by the U.S. Congress, Carmen and other survivors are hoping that peace will come one day.

Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman offers information on prior consultation

In the role of an amicus curiae (friend of the court), Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman offered the Constitutional Court analysis regarding indigenous people’s right to consultation, as well as the unconstitutionality of government agreement 145-2013. The agreement deems the execution of projects as part of the country’s energy plans a matter of “national urgency and public need.”

Soldiers and police deployed to Escuintla 

In response to increasing violence in the region, President Pérez Molina sent 1300 members of the police and military to Escuintla, near the southern border, to combat violence and decrease criminal activity. The Ministers of Governance and Defense noted that the operatives will remain in Escuintla indefinitely and evaluations will be done every eight and 15 days. Guatemala registers 14 murders per day and it is using militarization to decrease that number.

Protesting violence against women in Guatemala

In 2013, 755 women were murdered in Guatemala, and 100,000 adolescents were impregnated including 7,000 girls ages 10 to 14. Human rights activist Norma Cruz’s Fundación Sobrevivientes is fighting to stop violence against women. Last Saturday, thousands of women gathered to protest the government’s lack of attention to the issue of femicide and to demand that they take action against the prevalence of violence against women in the country.

Ex-guerrilla leader tried for El Aguacate Massacre

The trial for ex-guerrilla leader Fermin Felipe Solano Barillas, accused of killing indigenous people in 1988 El Aguacate Massacre, began Thursday. While most of the massacres during the war were committed by the military, the UN Truth Commission found in a 1999 report that rebels were responsible for three percent of the killings, including the one in El Aguacate. Over 30 people are expected to testify against Solano Barillas. Judge Walter Jimenez, who is presiding over the trial, noted “Through these trials we’re educating our populations so these things don’t happen again.”

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