State Security Forces Open Fire on Q’eqchi’ Community in El Estor and Other Updates

In the early morning of December 6, hundreds of Guatemalan police and military forces attacked the Q’eqchi’ community of Chapín Abajo in El Estor, Izabal. The group arrived via boat, working alongside what witnesses have reported as local paramilitary groups, and entered the community by force. These State security forces were acting on behalf of the major land holder and African palm oil company, Naturaceites that filed an eviction notice, accusing the community of “usurpation of land.” 

Video evidence reveals excessive force was used against the community. The forces opened fire, launched teargas, and beat community members. So far, two have been reported injured, including one minor who has been hospitalized from gunshot wounds and remains in critical condition. Dozens of community members, including children, were exposed to unsafe levels of tear gas. Five have been detained, including two minors. Local Q’eqchi’ Ancestral Councils have asked for an official observation mission from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to visit the area to verify the situation.

Both national and international groups came forward, denouncing the attack. The Forum of International Organizations in Guatemala (FONGI) condemned the excessive use of force and called upon the State of Guatemala to “comply with its human rights obligations.” In an alert published on December 7, GHRC expressed concerns for “the safety and well-being of indigenous communities in El Estor and throughout Guatemala, as cases of violent evictions by state security forces in collaboration with paramilitary groups have increased this year.” 

Human Rights Defender Murdered in Jalapa 

The body of Tereso Carcamo Flores was found, riddled with bullets on December 5, some 600 meters from his home in Santa María Xalapán, Jalapa. Flores was returning home from a wake in El Volcán, when he was attacked by armed men and killed. According to Flores’ family, he had been receiving threats for months, related to his involvement with the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) and his work supporting Indigenous communities’ struggle for land in the area. 

He had been a member of CODECA for over nine years. According to another of the organization’s leaders, Leiria Vay, these attacks are commonplace and in line with a pattern of violence against CODECA and human rights defenders in the region. “There are groups in alliance with mafias and hitmen that want to maintain power, they always act in the same way,” he explained. Flores’ death marks the 25th murder of members of CODECA since 2018, all of which remain in impunity. 

Judge Rules to Send World-Renowned Journalist to Trial

José Rubén Zamora–president of media outlet El Periodico and investigative journalist–will stand trial on charges of blackmail, influence peddling, and money laundering. On December 8 in the Tribunal trials in Guatemala City, Judge Freddy Orellana ruled that there was sufficient evidence to send Zamora to trial. Arrested in late July, Zamora has spent the last five months in pretrial detention in the Mariscal Zavala military prison in spite of international outcry demanding his release. 

At the tribunals, President of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) Michael Greenspan accompanied the hearing, lending his public support for the criminalized journalist. In its latest report on press freedom in Guatemala, the IAPA documented  an “environment of hostility against the press,” denouncing that, “journalists and media outlets are being systematically attacked if they do not bow to the interests of the government.” As an investigative journalist, Zamora has worked over 30 years investigating corruption and has served as one of President Giammattei’s largest critics; human rights groups have denounced his arrest as retaliation.  According to Zamora, “My best scenario is to get out [of prison] Jan. 14, 2024, when Giammattei leaves the presidency. I have patience and the truth on my side.”

Former President’s Sentence Leaves Much to be Desired in Fight Against Impunity 

On December 7, former President Otto Pérez Molina and his vice-president Roxana Baldetti were sentenced to 16 years in prison on the charges of illicit association and customs fraud. Seven years prior, the two resigned from their positions following massive country-wide protests that erupted after the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) and the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) uncovered extensive corruption in Guatemala’s tax system. 

Former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity Juan Francisco Sandoval–one of the dozens of judges and prosecutors that has been forced into exile during the Giammattei administration–welcomed the verdict stating, “It is a vindication of the work carried out by [those who worked with] CICIG and the public prosecutor’s office.” For many, however, the sentence was not enough. The court ruled to absolve the two of “illicit enrichment,” citing a lack of evidence.  According to Edie Cux, a lawyer with the Guatemalan anti-corruption organization Acción Ciudadana,“It sends a message of institutional weakness regarding cases dealing with corruption.” 

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