Criminalization of Land Rights Leaders Persists in Huehuetenango
On March 24, two indigenous and land rights leaders from Santa Eulalia — Rigoberto Juárez Mateo and Domingo Baltazar — were detained in Guatemala City. The arrests were related to a community struggle to defend a local radio station which had reported on planned hydroelectric projects as well as corruption of local authorities, and was shut down by municipal authorities in January.
In a separate case, GHRC staff member Dania Rodríguez attended a hearing on March 26 for six leaders from Barillas who have been opposing another hydroelectric dam project in the area — the Hidro Santa Cruz dam. Although the company has retracted many of the original accusations, the leaders remain charged with the crime of kidnapping. The case is set to conclude on April 8.
These events are part of a larger pattern of repression and increasing criminalization of activists by the Pérez Molina administration in order to support large-scale development projects. In this context, two activists have been killed, and GHRC is calling on Guatemala’s Attorney General to initiate an investigation into the deaths. Sign the petition now.
Hearings on Guatemala During IACHR 154th Session
Last week, during the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) 154th session, a hearing was held on the impacts of extractive industries in Latin America. During the hearing, members of the Catholic Church presented emblematic cases of human rights violations resulting from extractive projects in the region. More information on the hearing is available here.
Petitioners from the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and the Myrna Mack Foundation also addressed the IACHR regarding judicial independence in Guatemala.
In a US Senate hearing on national security, Francisco Palmieri — Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Caribbean and Central America — emphasized the importance of the continuation of the CICIG in Guatemala. During his recent visit to Guatemala, Vice President Joe Biden also stressed the importance of the renewal of the CICIG mandate as a condition for US cooperation on the Alliance for Prosperity Plan.
This article by The Guardian looks at the $250 million Santa Rita dam project in Guatemala, financed by several European development banks as well as the World Bank. The project has spurred public discontent and protests, and led to the murder of six people, including two children.
The United Nations has publicly criticized the increasing militarization of public security in Guatemala, noting that the tactic has not resulted in improvements in safety. The report also states that, although there has been an increase in the overall number of police as well as in the use of the military in citizen security, there has been an 8.8% increase in homicides in Guatemala City.
Less than a week after the deaths of journalists Danilo López and Federico Salazar, a third journalist — Guido Villatoro — was killed by gunfire on March 13th in Suchitepéquez. Like the case of Danilo Lopez, Villatoro had also received prior death threats.
The police department of Guatemala has released a statement on the capture of the three suspects in the murder. The journalist community in the districts of Quetzaltenango and Suchitepéquez — where the assaults took place — and in Guatemala City, have denounced the assassinations through protests outside of governmental and police departments.
In an attempt to provide more transparency around its sugar cane sourcing, Coca-Cola has promised to direct and publish studies on the impacts of the company’s supply chains on land rights. The first two assessments were completed for Guatemala and Colombia; in the coming months, Oxfam and others will conduct detailed assessments of Coca-Cola’s reports.