Guatemala News Update: January 16-22

Joe Biden’s Visit to Guatemala

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with newly inaugurated Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales during his visit to Central America last week. He congratulated Morales and praised his commitment to fight corruption.

Guatemala tries 11 ex-soldiers over wartime massacres

Guatemalan judge Claudette Dominguez opened a trial on Monday, January 18th of 11 retired soldiers accused of participating in massacres of Indigenous citizens during the country’s 36 year civil war.

This case was described by the district attorney’s office as one of the largest forced disappearance cases in America Latina. Evidence that led to the its opening case includes a report from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, which reported finding 558 bones and human remains in 83 mass graves on Military Zone 21 (CREOMPAZ) in the Alta Verapaz region, where the detainees were active members between 1978 and 1998. 90 of these remains corresponds to minors, 443 to adults, and three to the elderly, with 22 unknown. So far 97 of the victims have been identified through DNA.

The 11 former military personnel are among 18 who were arrested on January 6. Charges against three of the former military personnel were dropped when the judge declared that the evidence against them was insufficient. The remaining four soldiers are held under suspicion of the disappearance of a fifteen year old Marco Molina Theissen in Guatemala City during the war.

Among the accused is Benedicto Lucas Garcia, former chief of the armed forces and brother of former Guatemalan president Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, in office from 1978 until1982. Lucas Garcia protested the trial, claiming innocence of any involvement in the crimes.

According to an article by George Mason professor Jo-Marie Burt, “Never before in Latin America have so many high-ranking military officials been arrested simultaneously in connection with historic human rights cases.” Not only is this a historic moment for human rights in Guatemala, according to Burt it is also a chance for the U.S. to support reform efforts in Guatemala and Central America.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement on Tuesday in support of the trial.

Creation of Special Investigative Unit to Investigate Femicides

The Attorney General, Thelma Aldana announced the forming of a project to create a Prosecution Unit that specializes on Crimes of Femicide, which could be opened as soon as March 8th. This unit would take on the fight against femicide in Guatemala and uphold the Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women, which was approved in 2008. It has registered the murder of 5,018 women and girls. This number is a stark contrast from the 378 related sentences of these crimes, of which 282 were found guilty and 98 were found not guilty.

Guatemala forbids Otto Perez’s Molina’s son from leaving country

Guatemalan attorney general prohibited Otto Perez Molina’s son from leaving the country due to the ongoing investigation for abuse of power as mayor, including stealing public funds for his re-election campaign.

Otto Perez Leal, former mayor of Mixo, a town west of Guatemala City lost his reelection campaign last Friday. Now that his diplomatic immunity from holding office has ended, he is facing investigation for abuse of authority with electoral purposes and illegal propaganda.

Rejection of suspending Reconciliation Law article

The Constitutional Court rejected the request to suspend Article 8 of the National Reconciliation Law, proposed by Alfredo Sosa Díaz of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who claims the article was unconstitutional and ultimately should be eliminated. Judge Gloria Porras explained that the motion was processed; however, the request to suspend the article was provisionally denied.

Minister of Communications says she will not resign

Minister of Communications, Sherry Ordóñez stated today that she would not resign because she is not a contractor for the State and also because she has the support of President Jimmy Morales.

In the press conference, Ordóñez clarified various accusations made against her since she has assumed her position as minister. She admitted being a contractor for the State up until 2004, and that that “is not a sin.” She indicated that she is not permitted to be a contractor for the State for four years and that she knows she owes the Tributary Superintendent Administration (SAT) 70,000 Quetzals in value added tax (IVA). Sherry says she does not agree with this and has not received any notification about the issue. The Minister said she is willing to be investigated by the CICIG.

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