Guatemala News Update: June 9-13

Community opposition to Xalalá Dam

On June 7, 500 local leaders rejected the authorization of project feasibility studies for the Xalalá hydroelectric project. Cristian Otzín, lawyer for the communities, has announced that they will present a legal challenge to the project based on the failure to respect the process of prior consent, failure to respect the right to life, and anomalies in the project contract.

In a meeting with President Molina, the Executive Council of the Guatemalan Confederation of Cooperative Federations (Confecoop) expressed their interest in investing in the Xalalá dam, as long as the surrounding communities approve and want to be involved. Government officials and Confecoop will meet again in six months to evaluate the project’s development.

In related news, local residents removed a roadblock they had maintained since Monday to protest the construction of a hydroelectric project in their community of Camotán, Chiquimula.

URNG-MAIZ selects human rights and anti-mining activist as presidential candidate

Yuri Melini has been selected to run as the URNG-MAIZ presidential candidate in the next election. Melini has served as the director of the Centro de Acción Legal, Ambiental y Social de Guatemala (CALAS) for fourteen years, during which he worked to oppose mining and oil projects and protect the rights of indigenous communities.

Six Energuate workers held prisoner in Quetzaltenango

Last week, inhabitants of Los Paz, Génova, Quetzaltenango held six Energuate workers to protest prolonged electrical cuts and high electrical prices. The spokesperson for Energuate has said that the workers arrived in Los Paz with the intention of reestablishing electricity services when they were captured by villagers.

Three ex-police arrested for murder of investigator in Myrna Mack case

Three ex-police are accused of involvement in the 1991 murder of José Miguel Mérida Escobar, head investigator of Myrna Mack’s murder. Mack, an anthropologist who was critical of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Guatemalan government against indigenous Mayan communities, was stabbed 27 times by government forces. As Chief of the Homicide Section of the Criminal Investigation Department of the National Police, Merida Escobar testified that Mack had been murdered for political reasons by a member of the Security Department of the Presidential Staff of the Guatemalan Army. As a result, Escobar received death threats and was murdered on August 5, 1991.

Guatemalan Archbishop to send envoy to the Vatican to hear Orante verdict

Priest Mario Orantes is facing an ecclesiastical trial in Rome for his role in the murder of dedicated human rights defender, Bishop Juan Gerardi. The verdict is anticipated to be announced during the second half of June.

GAM will be joint plaintiff in the Military Zone 21 case

The Mutual Support Group (GAM) was accepted as a joint plaintiff in the case against military commanders of Military Zone 21 in Cobán during the late 70s and early 80s, when at least 533 people were killed. The Foundation of Forensic Anthropology of Guatemala (FAFG) has performed exhumations of the remains, which — according to testimonies — belong to individuals accused of being guerrillas during the internal armed conflict. Military officials maintain that the skeletons are part of a cemetery, despite the fact that many of the skeletons have been found with remnants of rope tied around their necks and ankles. This legal process is the first step in what GAM predicts will be one of the biggest criminal proceedings in Guatemalan history.

930% increase in Guatemalan migrants who are minors

According to a recent Pew Center study, the number of minors traveling from Guatemala to the US has increased by 930% since 2009. In a related press release, Unicef identified persecution from gangs and criminal organizations, communal and domestic violence, and poverty and inequality as the primary “push factors” that lead children to flee to the US.

United States Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will travel to Guatemala in July in response to the spike in unaccompanied minors crossing the border from Guatemala and other Central American countries.

Petition to stop El Tambor mining project

A group of concerned Guatemalans are seeking to gather 3,000 national and international signatures to call for the cessation of work at the El Tambor mining project, to denounce the use of violence against peaceful protest, and to support the La Puya peaceful resistance movement. The petition will be presented to President Peréz Molina.

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