Guatemala News Update: November 2-13

Puyasign-machineryUS Congress to Guatemalan President: Halt Illegal Mining Operations at La Puya

This week, GHRC announced that 12 members of the US Congress sent a letter to Guatemalan President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre to raise concerns about abuses related to the El Tambor gold mine in San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala. The letter calls on the President to use his authority to uphold human rights and to ensure that the mine’s owner–the US-based company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA)–promptly halts its illegal operations.

The congressional letter was mentioned in this Prensa Libre opinion piece (in Spanish); you can also read more in our full press release, and read the congressional letter in its entirety here.

NGOs Demand Palm Oil Industry Stop Abuses in Latin America

GHRC joined a coalition of NGOs in delivering a letter to the world’s biggest palm oil traders, alerting them to the gross violations of human rights occurring in the palm oil sector in Mesoamerica — including the recent murder of Guatemalan environmental activist Rigoberto Lima Choc.

“In Guatemala, community members engaging in legitimate actions to protect their water quality and environment consistently face threats, attacks, and assassinations,” said Kelsey Alford-Jones, “often committed with impunity due to a lack of judicial independence, widespread government corruption, and ineffective oversight of corporate practices.”

Read the press release here.

New Report: State of Fear and Terror Deliberately Created to Force Tahoe Resources’ Mine on Guatemalan Communities

A new report reveals the dramatic extent of the militarized security strategy that Canadian-US mining company Tahoe Resources developed to quash community opposition to its Escobal project in southeastern Guatemala. Read the entire report by Guatemalan investigative journalist Luis Solano here.

CICIG Proposes Tax to Combat Impunity in Guatemala

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has proposed the creation of a temporary tax on “large assets” in order to increase funds for criminal investigations as well as other programs related to combating corruption and impunity in Guatemala. While this is just the beginning of a proposal, the head of CICIG, Iván Velásquez, explained that immediate action must be taken to strengthen the Guatemalan justice system. Continue reading

Alarming Developments in Palm Oil Industry in Latin America Spur Global Call To Action For Palm Oil Traders


Global coalition of NGOs says murder, intimidation and the devastation of community livelihoods tied to rampant palm oil plantation expansion must be stopped

November 12, 2015 — Spurred by the recent murder of Guatemalan environmental and human rights defender Rigoberto Lima Choc, a coalition of global human rights and environmental organizations today alerted the world’s biggest palm oil traders of the gross violations of human rights occurring in the palm oil sector in Mesoamerica.

Recent conflicts between companies and communities in Guatemala and other Latin American countries have triggered global efforts to expose bad actors and seek intervention by governments and buyers of palm oil from the region to avoid ongoing human rights violations and environmental destruction.

The coalition has issued a letter calling on global commodity traders that may be operating in Guatemala and the wider Mesoamerican region, including Cargill, IOI, Wilmar, Musim Mas, AAK, ADM, Bunge and GAR, as well as palm oil processors and federations in the region, to disclose the details of all palm oil suppliers and publish credible plans to tackle human rights violations, social conflict and environmental destruction in their Mesoamerican supply chains.

Jeff Conant, International Forests Campaigner with Friends of the Earth-US says, “The murder of human rights defender Rigoberto Lima Choc on September 18, 2015 is yet another shocking example of the violence that plagues the palm oil sector. This should be a wake-up call for the multinationals doing business in Mesoamerica, especially those that have committed to ‘no exploitation’ in their supply chains: the only way to ensure that multinationals are not complicit in violence of this nature is to daylight their entire supply chains.”

Gemma Tillack, a spokesperson for Rainforest Action Network said, “Today, we have alerted the world’s biggest palm oil traders and processors to the human rights crisis unfolding in palm oil industry in Guatemala and Honduras. Through their demand for cheap palm oil, these companies are driving the expansion of palm oil across Latin America. They have the responsibility to ensure their suppliers uphold strict environmental and human rights standards. We will hold them to account for the impacts of their global supply chains, including in new expansion frontiers in Latin America.”

Soren Ambrose, of ActionAid International said, “Communities in Guatemala are being forced off their land to make way for palm oil production. These human rights abuses will not be tolerated. We are calling on global palm oil companies to come clean on their links to dirty suppliers, and to make clear commitments showing how they will address the social and environmental impacts of their partners in Latin America. Consumers around the world will not accept violence and intimidation for cheaper cookies and chips.”

The same day that Rigoberto Lima Choc was killed, three other Guatemalan human rights defenders, Hermelindo Asij Mo, Lorenzo Pérez Mendoza and Manuel Perez Ordoñez, were kidnapped. The murder and kidnapping occurred shortly after a criminal court ordered REPSA to suspend operations, based on charges that Mr. Lima and his environmental group had filed denouncing a massive fish kill along a 100-mile stretch of the Pasión River, downstream from REPSA’s facilities in the region of Sayaxché, Guatemala.

Kelsey Alford-Jones, Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA concluded by saying “In Guatemala, community members engaging in legitimate actions to protect their water quality and environment consistently face threats, attacks, and assassinations, often committed with impunity due to a lack of judicial independence, widespread government corruption, and ineffective oversight of corporate practices. A zero tolerance policy must be put into effect immediately for any suppliers using or benefiting from violence and human rights abuses in their palm oil operations.”

The coalition will be tracking efforts of the global commodity traders and palm oil companies in Mesoamerica to reform their supply chains, starting with disclosing the details of all palm oil suppliers; resolving grievance and advocating for real actions to be taken to reform bad actors in the palm oil industry in Latin America.

Background information

The joint letter was sent to Cargill, IOI, Wilmar, Musim Mas, AAK, ADM, Bunge, GAR, Oleofinos, Henry Lamotte Oils GmbH, Aceites y Derivados Sociedad Anonima (Aceydesa), Corporacion Industrial de Sula S.A. (COINSU), Palmeros de Aguan S. A. (PALMASA), and GREPALMA (The Palm Growers’ Guild of Guatemala).

The signatories to the letter are: Friends of the Earth-US, Rainforest Action Network, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Environmental Investigation Agency, Union of Concerned Scientists, ActionAid International, Oxfam America, Forest Peoples Program, Forest Heroes, GRAIN, Alliance for Global Justice, and Other Worlds

A generic version of the letter can be found here.



Friends of the Earth-United States, Jeff Conant,, U.S. +1 510 900 0016

Rainforest Action Network, Emma Rae Lierley,, U.S. +1 425.281.1989

Action Aid USA, Douglas Hertzler,, U.S. +1 202 370 9922

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Kelsey Alford-Jones,, U.S. +1 202-529-6599

Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: October 26-30

Former Comedian Jimmy Morales Elected as Guatemala’s New President

October 25, Guatemalans elected Jimmy Morales — a comedian with no political experience and backed by military hard-liners — to serve as the country’s next president. Morales defeated his opponent and former first lady Sandra Torres with over 67% of the country’s votes; at least half of the country’s citizens abstained from voting.

Though some Guatemalans are cautiously optimistic about the future, many remain skeptical that Morales will be able to pull the country out of its current political turmoil. A US Department of State press release congratulated Morales, stating: “We trust president-elect Morales will seek to work with his citizens and the Guatemalan Assembly to stimulate economic growth, reduce crime and violence, promote educational opportunities, target criminal networks responsible for human trafficking, and help create transparent and accountable governance and institutions.”

Read more about how the elections may affect civil society and impact human rights defenders in this Foreign Policy in Focus article.

Investigation into Passion River “Ecocide” Stalled

More than four and a half months after a mass die-off of fish occurred in the Passion River in Sayaxché, Peten, the investigation into what caused the event is at a standstill. Though authorities report that they are still collecting evidence, community members are denouncing the delays in the process, as well as the fact that communities received no aid in the aftermath of the contamination of the river.

Ministry of Finance Announces Plan to Cut Spending

Guatemala faces a financial crisis due to the fact the State did not meet its tax collection goals for this year. The government plans to address this shortfall by cutting spending across several units, except in those considered “key ministries,” such as the interior and health ministries.

Guatemala News Update: October 19-23

IACHR Holds 156 Period of Sessions

From October 17-23, human rights defenders and activists participated in hearings with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, DC. The Guatemala-focused hearings included the topics of transitional justice, criminalization of human rights defenders and justice operators, and the damaging impacts of monoculture African Palm plantations. Photos and videos from each hearing are available here.

First Disbursement of Funds as Part of Chixoy Dam Reparations Plan

The Guatemalan government made its first disbursement of Q22 million to family members in Baja Verapaz, as part of the reparations plan for the 33 communities affected by the construction of the hydroelectric Chixoy Dam. This marks the first action toward the implementation of the plan, which was finally signed by community representatives and former President Pérez Molina in November 2014. Continue reading

Jimmy Morales, Professional Comedian, Elected in Guatemalan Presidential Run-off

Riding a wave of anti-establishment emotion, Jimmy Morales – a comedian with no political experience, and backed by military hard-liners – has been elected as Guatemala’s next president.

Jimmy Morales. Photo: AFP

Jimmy Morales. Photo: AFP

Morales saw his popularity surge amid a series of corruption scandals that led to mass citizen protests, the arrest of several high-level government officials, and the resignation of former president Otto Pérez Molina. Capitalizing on his reputation as a “political outsider,” Morales achieved an unexpected first-round win in September before defeating former First Lady Sandra Torres in the October 25 runoff election.

Jimmy Morales, like his opponent, has made promises of transparency and anti-corruption efforts. But he has drawn criticism for his vague policies, his use of racist caricature, and the fact that some of his backers – including the founders of his political party FCN – are conservative members of the military who have been linked to war crimes from the internal armed conflict.

Jimmy Morales (FCN Party) won nearly 70% of the votes. Source: TSE

Jimmy Morales (FCN Party) won nearly 70% of the votes. Source: TSE

Though some Guatemalans are cautiously optimistic about the future, many remain skeptical that Morales will be able to pull the country out of its current political turmoil. “Nothing is going to change,”one voter said via Twitter – even as she cast her ballot.

Questions about the possibility of seeing lasting change in Guatemala were reiterated last week in Washington, DC, where members of Guatemala’s Human Rights Convergence and other civil society organizations participated in hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and met with US government officials.

In back-to-back hearings on transitional justice and the criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala, petitioners highlighted prominent examples of criminalization, including the defamation and unfounded complaints against lawyers and expert witnesses in the genocide case. Continue reading