Guatemala News Update: February 23-27

Criminalization of Community Leaders from La Puya: Four Leaders Acquitted Today Puya-650Today, four community leaders who had been active in the “La Puya” environmental movement – Fernando Castro Carrillo, Eusebio Morales Díaz, Francisco Carrillo Catalán, and Gregorio Catalán Morales – were declared not guilty of the crimes of kidnapping, coercion and threats against three employees from the El Tambor mine.

The first hearing of the case against the four leaders – as well as a fifth leader, Yolanda Oquelí – was held on May 27, 2014. Although the judge dismissed charges against Oquelí based on “lack of evidence,” the process continued against the four men. Four more hearings were held in order to hear witnesses, expert opinions, and the testimonies of the mine workers. Closing arguments were made on February 25, 2015, with the Public Prosecutor’s Office calling for a total of five years in prison for each of the accused.

In a prior case from April 2014, a separate group of three other leaders from La Puya were found guilty of illegally detaining and threatening employees of the El Tambor mine in 2012. Each leader – despite the absence of credible evidence – was sentenced to nine years in jail, which could be waived by paying a fine of approximately $4,212 (just over a dollar a day for the entirety of their sentence). The men have appealed the case, and are awaiting a trial set for August 2015.

Defense lawyers for both cases have demonstrated a flawed judicial process in which the public prosecutors failed to carry out an objective investigation, did not provide conclusive evidence, and arbitrarily accused members of La Puya for crimes it could not verify. According to the lawyers, these cases are clear examples of criminalization.
Victims Commemorated Amid Uncertainty Over Amnesty

Residents from the Ixil region commemorated the Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict with a Mayan ceremony and a march through the municipality of Nebaj. GHRC also issued a statement, highlighting the role that women have played in pushing for justice for crimes committed during the armed conflict.

CICIG Presents Report for Evaluation

The head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has presented a report on the CICIG’s work to the executive commission, which will determine if the CICIC’s continuation is advisable and make a recommendation to President Pérez Molina.

A related story calls attention to the reduced budget for Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is hindering its ability to investigate and persecute criminals, and leading to higher rates of impunity.

Headed by CODECA, Guatemalan Protesters March for Energy Nationalization

A protest, organized by the Committee for Rural Development (CODECA), took place on Monday, February 23. Protesters organized 20 roadblocks to demand the nationalization of electrical energy, the proposal of a rural development strategy, and a meeting with President Otto Perez Molina. They also decried the proposed lowering of the minimum wage and the damaging effects of the mining industry. Monday’s protest is a continuation of the persistent discontent with electrical energy costs.

Diplomat Should Be Removed From UN Over Inquiry

The United Nations is under fire for a Guatemalan diplomat’s connections to child trafficking in the 1980s in Guatemala. The diplomat, UN Joint Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet, was arrested in the 1980s for his illegal involvement in “Les Enfants du Soleil,” an international adoption ring. Mulet, who maintains his innocence, aspires to run for president in the upcoming Guatemalan elections.

Chiquita Causing Environmental Problems in Guatemala, Class Action Says

A lawsuit against “Chiquita Brands International Inc,” a US company and one of the world’s largest producers and seller of fruits and vegetables, has been filed due to misrepresentation and false advertising. The brand represents itself as environmentally conscious and sustainable, but its practices are polluting communities’ water resources and crops in Guatemala, where some of its bananas are grown.

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