Guatemala Faces Political Crisis in Wake of Tax Fraud Scandal

*This post will be updated regularly (updates at the bottom) as the crisis unfolds in Guatemala

Today, May 14, Alejandro Maldonado was named as Guatemala’s new vice president after Roxana Baldetti resigned on May 8 amid the revelation of a tax fraud scandal. Meanwhile, despite the vice president’s resignation, citizens have continued to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and will move forward with a wave of national protests set for Saturday, May 16.

What’s going on in Guatemala?

The uncovering of a corruption scandal has set off massive protests in Guatemala. Photo by Prensa Comunitaria.

The uncovering of a corruption scandal has set off massive protests in Guatemala. Photo by Prensa Comunitaria.

The uncovering of a massive tax fraud ring in Guatemala has prompted widespread public outrage, steeping the country in what many are calling a “political crisis” as September’s general elections draw near.

On April 16, authorities arrested 22 people – including the current and former heads of Guatemala’s tax collection agency – in the culmination of an 8-month long investigation into a criminal network used to defraud the state.

The crime ring was dismantled by a joint investigation by Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and the CICIG, and implicates officials in the highest levels of government. Although Vice President Roxana Baldetti was not directly linked to the fraud ring in the initial investigation, she was plunged into controversy when her private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, was identified as its leader. In the face of increasing public pressure, Baldetti submitted her resignation on May 8.

The criminal network has been called “La Linea,” (The Line), in reference to a certain cell phone number that businesses used to illegally negotiate the amount they were required to pay in customs taxes. Thanks to the network, businesses received a 25% “discount” on the fees when their property cleared customs; approximately 50% was paid to the state and the rest to the defrauders. Prosecutors estimate that Guatemala lost around Q940 million (US$120 million) in tax revenue to the scam, and the ongoing investigation has begun to reveal corruption that extends to the judicial branch. Continue reading

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Presente! T-Shirt Campaign: Order your shirts now!

GHRC is partnering with the School of the Americas Watch to promote a t-shirt campaign in support of the movement for justice and self determination in the Americas. Our goal is to sell 300 t-Shirts by Thursday, May 21.

Click here to order your limited edition t-shirt now!

tshirtcampaignGHRC100% of profits will benefit campaigns against militarization, and for a more peaceful world. The sweatshop-free shirts are being hand printed with inks that are easy on the environment. The design by César Maxit shows Ingrid Carillo, holding a picture of her relative, who was forcibly disappeared by SOA-trained security forces. The image is based on a photo by Linda Panetta, taken at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia.

The word Presente! means “here” or “present” in Spanish. It is used at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, when we remember those who were martyred by state security forces. We pronounce their names and bring their spirits before us as we respond: Presente! You are here with us, and you are not forgotten.

To take a look at the shirt and to place your order, visit SOA Watch’s website now.

“Guatemala at a Crossroads”: Panel Event with Prominent Human Rights Defenders

Please join us this Wednesday for a public event sponsored by GHRC, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL):

“GUATEMALA AT A CROSSROADS”

With a panel of prominent human rights defenders from Guatemala:

Iduvina Hernández (SEDEM), Claudia Samayoa and Jorge Santos (UDEFEGUA), Maya Alvarado (UNAMG) and Mario Avalos (ICCPG)

Date: Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Location: Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
1630 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC

Live Streaming of the Event is available: ustre.am/1iiQE

*Please note: this event will be in Spanish with no translation


Invitan al Foro Público:

“GUATEMALA EN LA ENCRUCIJADA”

 Con la participación de destacados defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos de Guatemala:

Iduvina Hernández (SEDEM), Claudia Samayoa y Jorge Santos (UDEFEGUA), Maya Alvarado (UNAMG), y Mario Avalos (ICCPG)

Fecha: miercoles, 6 de mayo, 2015
Hora: 4:00 p.m.
Lugar: Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
1630 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC

Siga el evento vía streaming: ustre.am/1iiQE

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.

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

(Leer en español abajo)

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

43+ US Cities Protest Over Missing Mexican Students from Ayotzinapa

Yesterday, as part of the #USTired2 movement, rallies were held in over 43 US cities for the 43 missing students from Guerrero, Mexico. The students went missing in late September after a clash with police and, while their whereabouts remain unknown, are believed to have been disappeared and murdered.

In DC, GHRC and partners gathered to raise awareness of the role of the US in funding and supporting the Drug War in Mexico and to call for an end to the US-Mexico partnership known as the Merida Initiative (also critically referred to as “Plan Mexico,” in reference to Plan Columbia).

protest-43missing-collageAfter meeting in Columbia Heights, protesters in DC marched to Dupont Circle to join other groups demonstrating against police brutality in the US as part of the DC Ferguson movement. Shutting down the Circle, protesters shouted “No justice, no peace,” and drew connections between impunity for repressive and criminal state actions in Mexico with impunity for police violence in the US.

The protests were covered in Fox News Latino and Univision, among other outlets.

Information via Rights Action suggests viewing this interview with Dawn Paley, author of “Drug War Capitalism,” and this three-minute summary of ‘battle for a different Mexico.’

Families Violently Evicted from the Polochic Valley Demand Rights

More than 3 years have passed since 769 families were violently evicted from the Polochic Valley at the hands of the sugar cane company Chabil Utzaj, in conjunction with Guatemalan police and military forces. Since then, the Polochic case has become one of the emblematic land rights cases.

Today, over 30 representatives of affected families, alongside members of several organizations, demonstrated in front of the presidential offices in Guatemala City to continue to demand their ancestral land rights. They also delivered a letter to President Otto Perez Molina — signed by over 100 organizations including GHRC — in support of the 75% of families who remain without land, homes, and basic services. Although the government agreed to return land to all families affected by the eviction, the process has been stalled since October of 2013, when only 140 of the 769 families were relocated.

Polochic-protest-12.2.14The letter to President Molina calls for an urgent solution for all families. It also draws attention to a changing rural landscape where economic policies that promote monoculture agriculture and extractive projects have led to the displacement of families and entire communities.

To accompany this action virtually, you can find suggestions for tweets and Facebook posts at this link (in Spanish): https://acaparamiento.titanpad.com/5.