Guatemala News Update: May 19-23

Violent Eviction at La Puya

On Friday, after more than two years of non-violent resistance against a gold mine, the communities in resistance of “La Puya” were evicted from their blockade at the entrance to the mine. Police arrived early in the morning to escort mining company trucks and heavy machinery. By the afternoon, hundreds of police — including many in full riot gear — moved in on the protesters with tear gas and flash bombs, beating those who refused to move. Over 20 people were injured.

Just days before, attempts at negotiation were made, but ultimately stalled when the government refused to allow the negotiations to be recorded. The Vice-Minister of the Interior insinuated that the government had agreed to accompany the mine equipment because the dialogue was effectively “broken.” Community members at La Puya reiterate that they want to complete the negotiation process with the government, but with transparency.

Although machinery was successfully brought into the mine, those at the Puya have already stated they are committed to continue their resistance. GHRC will continue to monitor the situation and support communities’ rights.

Thelma Aldana’s first day in office

Thelma Aldana spent much of her first day as attorney general visiting the various prosecutor’s offices. Aldana discussed concerns related to the lack of resources that impedes the work of prosecutors and vigorously emphasized that she will not make changes to replace the current chief prosecutors. Aldana also recently announced that she will review and formulate a position regarding the case against ex-dictator Ríos Montt.

In a recent interview, ex-Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz discusses her tenure and her recommendations for the new Attorney General.

Conflict continues in Huehuetenango

The trial of six community leaders from Huehuetenango who are accused of kidnapping five policemen and one justice of the peace on October 15, 2010 was supposed to begin May 20th. However, the hearing was suspended because witnesses for the prosecution did not attend.

On May 20th seven members of the army were detained by residents of the village of Bontac in Barillas, Huehuetenango. The soldiers were allegedly in Bontac to perform preventative measures in places with severe rain risks, but were not carrying identification and were thus detained. After army spokesman Ismael Cifuentes presented identification for the men, the Lieutenant Colonel in command in Barillas went to ask for their release, assuring he wanted to avoid confrontation. The military men have since been released.

The impact of Canadian mining projects in Latin America

A recent report presented to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission explores the impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America. The report reviews 22 cases of mining projects across nine Latin American countries, including the Marlin Mine in Guatemala, and reveals a disturbing pattern of environmental contamination, human rights violations, irregular acquisition of land, failure to participate in prior consultation, criminalization of community resistance to mining projects, and other social, legal, and environmental concerns.  The role of the Canadian government in continuing to provide financial, legal, and political support to mining companies despite knowledge of these concerns is also highlighted. Read more on the blog here.

On Wednesday, May 28th, environmental activist Oscar Morales will speak about his community’s struggle against a Canadian owned silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala. For more information about this event, click here.

Construction of Xalalá Dam will displace 15,000 Mayans

The Q’eqchi Mayans who inhabit Margaritas Copón and 58 other communities are facing eviction with the impending construction of the Xalalá project, a giant hydroelectric dam that President Molina vows to construct, “whatever it takes.” The building of the dam would flood the Q’eqchi’s ancestral land, which they are unwilling to give up. The $337 million project is proceeding, despite widespread local opposition, and when finished will be the second-largest dam in Guatemala. The goal of the dam is to reduce reliance on oil and exploit hydroelectricity in the hopes of becoming the principal electricity exporter of the region.

On April 10, the Controller General of Accounts filed a complaint against 12 members of the Board of Directors of Inde, the National Electrification Institute, for signing a contract with the Brazilian company Intertechne Consultants to perform two feasibility studies of the construction of the Xalalá hydroelectric project. Inde is accused of breach of duties, fraud, abuse of authority, and illegal enrichment by failing to comply with the requirements of the Law of State Contracts.

Outcry continues over congressional resolution denying genocide

Protests by indigenous groups continued during the week in front of Congress, with some activists now calling for Resolution 3-2014 to be annulled. Arístides Crespo, president of Guatemala’s Congress, dismissed the idea of annulling the resolution but suggested that a new resolution  that expresses a different opinion regarding the genocide could be proposed and voted on.

Amnesty International issued a statement today that discusses the recent congressional resolution as well as the replacement of Claudia Paz y Paz and the sanctioning of Yassmín Barrios, the judge who presided over the Ríos Montt trial.

Portillo pleads guilty

Former President Alfonso Portillo plead guilty to money laundering before a U.S. Federal Court and was sentenced to nearly six years in prison.

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