Guatemala News Update: January 4-8

18 Ex-Military Leaders Arrested in Guatemala for Crimes against Humanity

Eighteen former military leaders — including former generals, a former army chief of staff, and a former military intelligence chief — were arrested on Jan. 6 on criminal charges related to massacres and disappearances from the internal armed conflict. Fourteen of the arrests pertain to an investigation on a military base known as CREOMPAZ in Cobán (formerly called Military Base 21), where the remains of hundreds of people have been found and where the identities of at least 97 people have been confirmed as individuals disappeared during the 1980s, when the ex-officials were in power. Four of the arrests relate to the disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, a minor, in 1981.

The handling of these cases will be a test for president-elect Jimmy Morales, who will take office on Jan. 14. GHRC and other human rights groups have raised concerns that Morales’s party is backed by military hard-liners, including one of the accused, Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, who could not be arrested yesterday due to his immunity as an incoming legislator. Attorney General Themla Aldana announced that her office has asked the Supreme Court to consider lifting Ovalle’s immunity.

An estimated 45,000 people were forcibly disappeared during the conflict; GHRC has historically supported access to truth and justice for relatives of the disappeared, including members of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA) and the Mutual Support Group (GAM). The below video interview with Marcia and Blanca, founding members of FAMDEGUA, includes information about the important exhumation the group spearheaded in Cobán:

FAMDEGUA from GHRC/USA on Vimeo.

Members of La Puya: Uphold Court Sentence Suspending Construction at the El Tambor Mine

Protest-CC-Puya-Jan.7

Members of La Puya protest at the Constitutional Court in Guatemala

On Jan. 5, officials from the municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc, accompanied by police officers, arrived at La Puya to temporarily suspend work at the El Tambor mine. Officials sealed the entrance to the mine with tape and banners, an action taken to enforce a July 15, 2015 court decision that called for EXMINGUA — the Guatemalan subsidiary of US mining company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) —to suspend all activities at the mine. The court had found that EXMINGUA lacked a valid construction license for El Tambor, and although the company appealed the decision, it was ultimately upheld by Guatemalan courts.

In the early morning house of Jan. 6, company employees and riot police arrived at La Puya and removed the tape and banners, allowing machinery and workers back into the site. In response, representatives from La Puya held a press conference on Wednesday morning to denounce the occurrence; they also carried out a subsequent protest at the Constitutional Court. Community members are calling on Guatemala’s top court to confirm the municipal injunction that demands closure of the mine. Read more about the history of the La Puya case here.

Arrests Begin for Migrants Who Lost Asylum Cases

Immigration enforcement officials have begun a wave of deportations of families, mainly from Central America, who have lost their asylum cases. According to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the raids are part of an effort to “achieve a ‘greater rate’ of deportation of parents who crossed the border illegally with their children.”

A New York Times opinion piece called the raids “shameful,” stating that the answer to migration “requires addressing the root causes of the bloody violence in the region, and fixing the chaotic, underfunded legal system at the border, where migrants with no money or lawyers — or with bad lawyers — confront the infernal complexities of immigration and asylum law, and lose.” Many rights groups have called on the US government to cease the raids and focus instead on US policy toward Central America.

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