Growing Concerns Over Extractive Industries in Latin America

GHRC presented members of La Puya with a book of messages of solidarity at the movement's third anniversary

GHRC presented members of La Puya with a book of messages of solidarity at the movement’s third anniversary event.

“This is one of the most important human rights issues of our time,” stated Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) President Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, referring to the wide-ranging effects of extractive industries on communities in Latin America. Last week, the IACHR held a hearing on this topic as part of its 154th session.

During the hearing, members of the Catholic Church presented emblematic cases of human rights violations resulting from extractive projects in the region. They also detailed the criminalization of land rights defenders, and raised concerns about the serious damage being done to the environment as well as to indigenous communities.

“We can live without gold, but not without water,” said Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini, a bishop of the Catholic Church in Guatemala and a petitioner at the hearing. Bishop Ramazzini also noted the importance of prior consultation and called for other sustainable models of development that will not undercut the local economy. Continue reading

La Puya Celebrates Three Years of Resistance

March 2, 2015 marked the three-year anniversary of the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya. In the words of the men and women who have upheld the movement, the experience has brought a sense of satisfaction and strengthened their belief in peaceful resistance.

In the early morning, at the entrance of the municipality of San Jose del Golfo, people from all across the country began to gather to participate in this year’s celebration. The morning began with a march, headed by young people on stilts and a percussion group that filled the day with music and dance. Men and women, young and elderly, and children, held signs with phrases of celebration and support for the resistance. The march, to the cry of “Yes to Life, No to Mining,” proceeded through the municipality’s streets.

3-anniversary-collageWhen the march reached La Puya, a wooden stage had already been set up for a day-long cultural program, in which various national artists participated. Following each presentation, organizations and community leaders from other towns took the stage to transmit their message of solidarity and acknowledgement to members of the resistance. During one of these brief breaks, GHRC took the opportunity to share a book of over 200 messages of congratulations, solidarity and hope that came from our supporters. We also delivered a banner sent by a University of Oregon delegation that visited La Puya on August 2014.

(Click below to read the messages sent to La Puya from GHRC supporters):

Cover-puyamensajesAna Sandoval, on behalf of the members of La Puya, shared a message of gratitude for the words of encouragement and for international solidarity:

“Thank you for nourishing our conviction to continue the struggle, and for being part of the La Puya Peaceful Resistance. Every time someone stands up against the human rights violations that we endure, it is because he/she also feels that same indignation that keeps us fighting for water, land and life. And not only for human life, but also for all the beings that inhabit the Earth, because this fight is collective.”

After sharing lunch together, a mass was celebrated, honoring the religious devotion and strength which has characterized the resistance movement. The evening culminated with music, filling the atmosphere and participants with the strength and hope showed by all those who joined and participated in this important event.

Footage from the Asociacion Comunicarte of La Puya’s third anniversary can be seen here. In-depth background information on La Puya is available on the GHRC website.

Guatemala News Update: March 9-13

International Women’s Day Celebrated in Guatemala

International Women’s Day was celebrated worldwide on March 8; in Guatemala, the day was marked with festivities, conferences and articles dedicated to women’s rights. Women held a march, and members of the Alliance Against Criminalization held a press release to call for greater protections for women land and human rights defenders.

Guatemalan Vice-president Roxana Baldetti made use of the occasion to address women’s rights at the UN as part of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. During his recent visit to Guatemala, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also spoke about gender equality, stating that aid from Spain would prioritize combating gender violence.

Two Reporters Shot Dead, Third Injured in Guatemala

On March 10, 2015, in an attempt to assassinate three journalists in the southern city of Mazatenango, two were killed and one was seriously injured. One of the men killed, Danilo López, had received death threats after reporting on corruption in the region. According to Guatemalan police, one of the suspects has now been captured.

GHRC condemned the attack, and called on the Guatemalan government to thoroughly investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice. Read a statement from GHRC and partner organization UDEFEGUA here.

Slow Advances in the Genocide Case

A sanction imposed on Judge Yassmin Barrios, for actions she took as judge in the trial of Efraín Ríos Montt in 2013, has been finally been revoked by the Constitutional Court. The initial sanction included temporary suspension from office for one year and a fine of 5,400 Quetzales.

As the genocide case remains indefinitely delayed, one of the witnesses — Pedro Chávez Brito — has died of an illness. Brito is the second witness to pass away while the case remains in legal limbo, calling attention to the need to restart the process as soon as possible.

Activists Protest the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) in Toronto

Activists partnering with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) protested on March 1 outside the world’s largest mining convention in Toronto, Canada. Among the conference’s sponsors is Goldcorp, a company well known for its human rights violations in Guatemala. Demonstrators also infiltrated the conference with fake programs for the “Corporate Social Responsibility” events.

Central American Alliance for Prosperity Has ‘Business’ Focus

The “Alliance for Prosperity” plan was initially launched in cooperation between the governments of the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and the US to help unaccompanied minors fleeing from Central America to the US. However, Central American officials have prioritized meeting with business representatives over civil society actors — raising concerns that the funds might be diverted to the private business sector.

GHRC Condemns the Assassination of Two Journalists in Mazatenango, Guatemala

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission condemns the March 10, 2015 assassination of journalists Danilo Lopez and Federico Salazar. This attack also left journalist Marvin Túnchez severely injured. GHRC calls on the Guatemalan government to thoroughly investigate this attack and to bring those responsible to justice. We also call on the Guatemalan government to effectively implement a protection program for journalists.

Guatemala has a long history of being known as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. At least 342 journalists were killed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996). The Committee to Protect Journalist stated today that “Guatemala has a troubling pattern of impunity in attacks against journalists. If authorities allow these crimes to remain unsolved, all local journalists will face even more danger.”

The killings were also denounced by the IACHR and the RFK Center, and below you can find the translated statement from human rights group UDEFEGUA:


We Repudiate the Assassinations of Journalist in Mazatenango

Today, March 10, 2015, in an attempt to assassinate three journalists, two were killed and one was seriously injured. The two journalists who were killed were Danilo Zapón López and Federico Salazar, and the injured journalist was Marvin Israel Túnchez. This vile attack is part of a much wider generalized violence against journalists, social commentators, and editors in the country, which has reduced the freedom of expression not only for journalists, but also the general society. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: March 2-6

Vice President Biden Visits Guatemala

Joe Biden met with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to discuss in detail the Alliance for Prosperity Plan. Following an initial meeting, Biden and the presidents of the Northern Triangle countries payed a visit to the Ixchel Museum to meet with members of the private sector, where Biden stressed the need for business owners to invest in their own countries.

Biden also urged Guatemala to continue the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), and met with CICIG Commissioner Velazquez to underscore the importance of the commission’s work. In a response to Biden’s comments, President Pérez Molina rejected the notion of using the extension of the CICIG as a precondition for receiving US funding.

“Smaller than David”: The Struggle of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala

Human rights groups The Observatory and UDEFEGUA have launched a report and documentary film about the vulnerability of human rights defenders in Guatemala. The report highlights the targeting of land rights defenders via criminalization, threats and physical violence. Continue reading

Commemorating International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, women human rights defenders from the Alliance Against Criminalization held a press conference today in Guatemala City, commemorating the historic struggle of women’s resistance movements in Guatemala and calling for greater protections for female land and human rights defenders. Read their statement below (the original Spanish version is also available below).

AAC

Women from the Alliance Against Criminalization at a press conference on Friday, March 6

The Alliance Against Criminalization: Commemorating International Women’s Day

We, women defenders of human rights and natural resources — from a diversity of identities and member organizations of the Alliance Against Criminalization — come together today to commemorate the historic struggle of our mothers and grandmothers. Supported by their resistance throughout the ages, we have the strength to confront all forms of domination over our bodies and over nature.

The issue of violence against women defenders is a patriarchal, historic, social and complex phenomenon that affects all aspects of our daily lives, whether we live in rural areas or urban cities. It also impacts the relationships we establish with our family, our community, our organizations and our State. Continue reading

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 prosecutors 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