In its Annual Report for 2022, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) classified Guatemala as a systemic violator of human rights, placing it under Chapter IV.B for the second year in a row. The IACHR identified “The presence of other structural situations that seriously affect the use and enjoyment of fundamental rights recognized in the American Declaration” and a “lack of will” from the Guatemalan government to address these issues.
The report cites concerns about significant setbacks in the fight against corruption and impunity. The IACHR denounced the manipulation of the justice system to criminalize judicial sector workers working on cases of high-level corruption and transitional justice related to the internal armed conflict. As a result, 30 justice sector operators have been forced into exile. According to the report, spurious cases–made possible by the cooperation of the Public Ministry–were widely used to intimidate judges and prosecutors and human rights defenders, activists, and journalists. As stated by the IACHR, “These facts call into question the commitment of the State to its obligation to combat impunity and corruption, and to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and, therefore, the very exercise of the human rights of the Guatemalan people.”
Finally, the IACHR called upon the state of Guatemala to comply with the recommendations outlined in the 2021 Annual Report that have yet to be achieved. Specifically, Guatemala is asked to address the fight against corruption and impunity, uphold judicial independence and the rights of judicial operators, support institutional frameworks for peace and human rights, and protect freedom of expression.
Police Arrest Lawyers Connected to Case of Criminalized Journalist
In the afternoon of April 20, police arrested lawyers Juan Francisco Solózano Foppa and Justino Brito Torres. As lawyers representing criminalized journalist José Rubén Zamora, both face charges of obstruction of justice for allegedly falsifying evidence for the case. Foppa and Torres stepped down earlier this year at the request of Zamora after the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) announced its plans to investigate them. Foppa denied the allegations, claiming the charges are “one hundred percent political.”
Human rights and political groups expressed their solidarity with Foppa, denouncing his arrest as revenge for representing Zamora. Foppa also attempted to run for mayor of Guatemala City in the upcoming elections, but the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) denied his registration.
According to his mother, Silvia Solórzano Foppa, the arrest was “not only to prevent his electoral participation but also, in this case, to silence him. So that he can’t even express his opinion.”
Now, he plans to await his trial from prison, opting to be represented by a public defender rather than a private attorney. “I can no longer defend myself, nor can I defend another colleague,’ he said, continuing, “It is unheard of.”
US Allegedly Linked to Buyout of Controversial Mine in El Estor
A leaked memo obtained by Newsweek indicates the potential involvement of the US in the acquisition of the Fenix Nickel in El Estor, Izabal. The article published by Newsweek alleges that the US is helping facilitate the buyout of the mine by Canadian mining company “Central American Nickel” (CAN) for a “substantial discount.” Valued at $1 billion, the Fenix Mine is a massive nickel mining operation currently owned by the Solway Investment Group that produces about 1,000 tons of nickel each month. Operating on and off since the 1960s, the mine carries a long history of human rights abuses and strong opposition from the neighboring Indigenous Q’eqchi communities in and around El Estor.
Last November, the US treasury sanctioned the Guatemalan assets of the Switzerland-based Solway Investment Group amid allegations of Russian influence peddling, ecological damage, and serious human rights violations. A Solway representative told Newsweek, “Solway has no intention of selling its assets in Guatemala.” The memo, however, reveals that a US diplomat in the embassy is working closely with CAN to facilitate the transfer of the mining facilities and has involved the Development Finance Corporation (DFC). According to the article, the DFC has agreed to invest more than $300 million to expand nickel processing. Denying these allegations, Spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala later told Newsweek that the “DFC is not providing political risk insurance or other financing to a nickel project or related processing facilities in Guatemala.”
Q’eqchi land defender Olga Choc Che said, “Any operation of the mine without a proper consultation is illegal.” A 2020 Constitutional Court ruling mandated that the company suspend all mining operations until it could consult with the impacted Indigenous communities. The consultation process, however, was marred with irregularities and violence, including using a “state of siege” to limit the participation of certain communities. Mining activities resumed in early 2022. Che confirmed with our team that rumors of US involvement in the buyout began circulating in El Estor late last year, but she has not heard any specific details. Newsweek continues to be the only news source reporting on this information.
Environmental Defender Proves His Innocence Once More
On April 19, Judge José Alfredo Quiñónez Lemus ruled to acquit environmental defender and teacher Bernardo Caal Xol of fraud. Caal faced a complaint filed by the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) in 2017 related to his work at a primary school in the Sibicte village of Chisec, accusing Caal of wrongfully collecting a salary for periods that he was absent from school. While the complaint was administrative in nature, the Public Ministry sought to bring criminal charges against him.
Americas Director at Amnesty International, Erika Guevara-Rosas, denounced patterns of criminalization in Guatemala, stating, “It’s regrettable that in Guatemala unfounded criminal prosecutions aimed at harassing and obstructing the work of human rights defenders – particularly environmentalists and Indigenous people, and those who fight against impunity and corruption – are such a common tactic.” As a Q’eqchi land defender, Caal has already faced criminalization at the hands of private companies and the Public Ministry. He served four years of a seven-year sentence on trumped-up charges and was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. In March 2022, the court ruled to release Caal. Now, he walks free without any pending charges against him.