Guatemala News Update: February 23-27

Criminalization of Community Leaders from La Puya: Four Leaders Acquitted Today Puya-650Today, four community leaders who had been active in the “La Puya” environmental movement – Fernando Castro Carrillo, Eusebio Morales Díaz, Francisco Carrillo Catalán, and Gregorio Catalán Morales – were declared not guilty of the crimes of kidnapping, coercion and threats against three employees from the El Tambor mine.

The first hearing of the case against the four leaders – as well as a fifth leader, Yolanda Oquelí – was held on May 27, 2014. Although the judge dismissed charges against Oquelí based on “lack of evidence,” the process continued against the four men. Four more hearings were held in order to hear witnesses, expert opinions, and the testimonies of the mine workers. Closing arguments were made on February 25, 2015, with the public prosecutor’s office calling for a total of five years in prison for each of the accused.

In a prior case from April 2014, a separate group of three other leaders from La Puya were found guilty of illegally detaining and threatening employees of the El Tambor mine in 2012. Each leader – despite the absence of credible evidence – was sentenced to nine years in jail, which could be waived by paying a fine of approximately $4,212 (just over a dollar a day for the entirety of their sentence). The men have appealed the case, and are awaiting a trial set for August 2015.

Defense lawyers for both cases have demonstrated a flawed judicial process in which the public prosecutor’s office failed to carry out an objective investigation, did not provide conclusive evidence, and arbitrarily accused members of La Puya for crimes it could not verify. According to the lawyers, these cases are clear examples of criminalization. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 16-20

Tribunal Formed to Rule on Amnesty for Ríos Montt

Guatemala’s First Court of Appeals has rejected a challenge made by Ríos Montt’s defense against Judge Edith Marilena Pérez Ordóñez, who was confirmed as the third member of a tribunal that will rule on Montt’s petition for amnesty.

Vice President of US to Visit Guatemala

In early March, Vice President Joe Biden will hold two days of meetings with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to discuss implementation of the “Alliance for Prosperity” plan.

In a related article, Julio Ligorría — Guatemala’s ambassador to the US — discusses cooperation between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the US regarding development and security crises. The ambassador also discusses Guatemala’s active role in the implementation of the “Alliance for Prosperity” plan.

Operation Eye of the Falcon Fighting Drugs in Guatemala with US Support

The Guatemalan government has announced a new law enforcement operation, called “Eye of the Falcon,” in order to break up drug trafficking organizations. The operation will focus on Guatemala’s Pacific coast and involves both US and Guatemalan anti-drug agents. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update February 9-13

Former Dictator Ríos Montt Could Stand Trial for Dos Erres Massacre

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court declared on February 6 that former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt could be prosecuted for the “Dos Erres” massacre. Nearly 300 people were murdered in 1982 in the village of Dos Erres by the Guatemalan military’s special forces, the Kaibile, under the de facto administration of Ríos Montt.

Obama’s Central America Rescue Plan Will Only Make Life There Worse

This article argues that the “Alliance for Prosperity” plan, which promotes economic development in Central America as a mechanism to curb migration, could have adverse effects in the region. By promoting spending on infrastructure and foreign investment, the plan could actually exasperate the problems that vulnerable local communities face when dealing with rapid macroeconomic development. Continue reading

Commemorating the 2015 Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict

Today, GHRC joins Guatemalans as they commemorate the Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict.

It was on this day, in 1999, that the UN Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) released it’s report, Guatemala: Memory of Silence. The report’s extensive documentation and interviews with survivors helped Guatemala – and the world – understand the magnitude of the violence, including the widespread use of torture, sexual violence, forced disappearances, systematic human rights violations against the civilian population, and acts of genocide carried out by the State against Mayan peoples in four separate regions.

Today we also salute women survivors, who, in ever greater numbers, have chosen to break the silence about the violence they suffered. Continue reading

Celebrating the Third Anniversary of the “La Puya” Peaceful Resistance Movement

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Members of La Puya celebrate their 2nd anniversary last March (2014)

Nearly three years have passed since residents from San Pedro Ayampuc and San Jose del Golfo first joined together in peaceful opposition to a gold mining operation near their homes. From a single act of civil disobedience emerged the world-renowned environmental justice movement known as “La Puya.”

La Puya began on March 2, 2012, when community members joined together to form a human blockade, preventing mining machinery from entering the site. Despite their dedication to nonviolent resistance, participants in the roadblock endured extreme repression — including threats, arrests, and violence — from both employees of the U.S.-owned mining company and the Guatemalan government. Yet, even after the blockade was violently broken up by riot police last May and machinery was escorted onto the mine site, members of La Puya continue to maintain a 24-hour presence in moral opposition to the project. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 2-6

US Continues Restrictions on Guatemalan Military Aid 

This article discusses continued US pressure on the Guatemalan government to reduce the role of the military across the country, even as Otto Pérez Molina’s administration has overseen the expansion of the military into law enforcement and recently passed a new executive order supporting nine reserve military squadrons to assist with “citizen security” and help “combat organized crime.”

The military is also being used to protect the interests of foreign and multinational corporations working in Guatemala, and to threaten and intimidate land rights activists. Although conditions on US funding remain in place, the US continues to provide support and training to the Guatemalan army in order to combat drug trafficking.

GHRC, quoted in the article, has raised concerns about the increased militarization of daily life in Guatemala, noting that it is also a violation of the peace accords.

US Ambassador to Guatemala Advocates for Extension of the CICIG

US Ambassador Todd Robinson has expressed support for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), stating that he will seek out support from the international community for its continuation.

Although Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina recently announced that he would not request an extension for the CICIG, several Guatemalan and international civil society groups have called for its continuation. A survey by the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce also found that 70% of those interviewed are in favor of extending the mandate of the CICIG for another two years.

This week, heads of the institutions that make up the justice sector also held a closed-door meeting to discuss the permanence of the CICIG; a decision about the extension will be made within the next two months. Continue reading

Human Rights Group UDEFEGUA: 2014 the “Most Violent Year” for Defenders

According to the annual report from the Guatemalan Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), 2014 was the most violent year for human rights advocates in Guatemala, with an average of 2.2 attacks reported daily. Violence against individuals and organizations that promote human rights has been on the rise since 2013, when those opposed to the genocide trial formed what human rights groups have called ¨an alliance to promote impunity, limit freedom of expression and criminalize defenders.¨ The year also saw a sharp rise in physical attacks against defenders, where in past years, verbal or written threats had been more common.

The majority of attacks (82% of the total) were perpetrated against defenders of land and environmental rights — both against individuals and communities, as well as against reporters covering these events. It is also important to note that women activists and defenders of women’s rights have been among the most vulnerable this year. Women were victim to 54% of overall attacks against defenders, including acts of sexual harassment, an increase over previous years.

Despite the rise of violence, the government’s response has been inefficient and insufficient, and levels of impunity in Guatemala remain high. For these reasons, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights — in the case of Florentín Gudiel et al vs. Guatemala – ordered the creation of an institutionalized Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders, which could serve as a future model for the protection of human rights defenders.


UDEFEGUA 2014 Annual Report

UDEFEGUA-informe12014 was undeniably the most violent year for people and organizations that promote human rights. The wave of violence against them has been increasing since 2013 when opposition to the genocide trial coalesced in an alliance between government actors (including the President’s office), business interests from the agriculture and extractive industries, groups of former members of the military involved in human rights violations, and right-wing extremists. This alliance was strengthened through a series of “pacts of impunity” which included strategies to criminalize public protest and limit freedom of expression. Continue reading