Guatemala News Update: Feb. 6-12

Public Prosecutor’s Office presents skeletons as evidence at the Sepur Zarco hearings

In the seventh day of hearings by the judges of the Sepur Zarco case, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented as evidence boxes with the skeletons of 48 people. One expert, Juan Carlos Gatíca, explained where the bones had been exhumed and the analysis that had been done to identify them. Another expert, Óscar Ariel Ixpatá, described the types of wounds found on the exhumed bones, explaining that what they found indicated that the victims had bullet wounds and had been beaten. Furthermore, the victims had been blindfolded, bound, and gagged.

Campesinos March for Political Change in Guatemala

Thousands of Guatemalan rural workers protested in the streets of Guatemala City on Wednesday, blocking traffic to pressure President Jimmy Morales into passing political and economic reforms. The campesino organizations listed a variety of demands, including the respect of the constitutional rights of Guatemalan cities, wage levels, environmental protections, and national sovereignty.  Concerning environmental issues, protesters want an end to projects that displace communities and exploit natural resources. They also criticized agreements with transnational organizations, arguing instead for nationalized energy resources to benefit Guatemalans.

The protesters also demanded justice for those who intimidated community leaders, and the freedom of human rights defenders who had been jailed and criminalized. Furthermore, they called for resolution of 135 land conflicts, and housing guarantees.

Minister of Energy and Mining denied new moratorium on mining and will accelerate process to grant licensing

The Minister of Energy and Mines will not maintain a moratorium on new mining licenses and instead seeks to speed up the process of granting requests for licenses. The past two administrations had abstained from granting new licenses. The new officials argue that these projects can help to reduce the high levels of poverty within the country if attention is paid to social and environmental issues, explained the Vice-minister of Sustainable Development, Roberto Velasquez. In contrast, communities who live next to resource extraction projects such as mines, as well as hydroelectric dam projects have almost unanimously opposed them as environmentally harmful, socially destructive, and as driving factors of increased violence and repression in their communities.

The Minister for Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) analyzes continuation of Perenco activities

Within the 35 days, MARN will decide the fate of the continuation of Perenco’s petroleum extraction operations, this coming after last week’s verdict from the government’s legal office, which recommended that activities be suspended until the Ministry publishes an assessment of the company’s operations. Sydney Alexander Samuels, Minister for the Environment, said that they couldn’t cancel operations entirely, given that 13 communities depend on the company economically. “Perenco has a current license and it would be an arbitrary action on my part if I stop the operations of this business at this time.” The company has been operating for years inside a nature reserve in one of the most bio-diverse regions in the country.

Video on the Ecocide Case in Peten

A video (14 min; Spanish) by the National Network to Defend Food Sovereignty in Guatemala provides a closer look at the conditions faced by communities who depend on the Pasión River for their livelihoods – and who in April of 2015 began to see a massive die-of of fish. Community leader Rigoberto Lima was assassinated in September. GHRC has taken leadership in international advocacy efforts on both the environmental contamination as well as the murder of Mr. Lima.

Guatemala elects first openly gay Congress Member

A new article profiles the first openly gay Congress Member, Sandra Moran, who took office in January. She is well known for her activism on women’s rights and she has promised to push for reforms to end hate crimes and discrimination against LGBT citizens, as well as push for passage of a law that would protect sexual diversity. This is a huge moment for Guatemala’s LGBT community which has never before hadrepresentation within government. These issues are controversial in Guatemala and President Jimmy Morales, who is an evangelical Christian, has already made clear his opposition to same sex marriage. Moran expressed hope in a statement to The Guardian, “There’s a long way to go but it’s an important start: Congress is still dominated by men and very conservative, but here I am.” GHRC accompanied Moran on a US speaking tour in 2011.

Guatemala and EU begin anti-corruption campaign within the Guatemalan Judiciary

In 2012, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) reported 18 judges who had been caught ruling in favor to criminal structures, and in 2015 at least three judges were detained for being implicated in corruption cases. Now, a new anti-corruption campaign supported by USAID and the European Union aims to promote leadership, impartiality, and independence among judges and magistrates as well as fortify rule of law.

CICIG Commission Ivan Velasquez and Attorney General Thelma Aldana were both recognized recently in the US for their work to combat corruption.

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