Summary: Concern about fair elections in Guatemala is mounting as Guatemala´s highest court confirmed the decision to bar the top-polling candidate from the presidential race. The list of reputable judges, lawyers, and human rights advocates prosecutors are managing to link … Continue reading
Category Archives: Human Rights Analysis
ONGs Apoyan a Jorge Santos
Las organizaciones abajo firmantes expresamos nuestro respeto y apoyo incondicional a Jorge Santos, director de la organización guatemalteca de derechos humanos UDEFEGUA. La represión en Guatemala se ha convertido en noticia mundial. La maniobra para sofocar a los opositores a … Continue reading
NGOs Support UDEFEGUA Director Jorge Santos
We, the undersigned organizations, express our respect and unconditional support for Jorge Santos, director of the Guatemalan human rights organization UDEFEGUA. The repression in Guatemala has become world news. The maneuvering to stifle opponents of government corruption and impunity has … Continue reading
For a Second Year in a Row, Guatemala Earns Spot on List of Systemic Human Rights Violators
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.
Public Ministry Transfers Prosecutor in Charge of Death Squad Dossier Case
On April 11, the Public Ministry (MP) announced the transfer of prosecutor Elena Sut Ren from the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office. Sut had worked in the human rights office for over ten years, building critical transitional justice cases such as the Death Squad Dossier and Creompaz. The Public Ministry assigned her a new position in the Prosecutor’s Office for Adolescents in Conflict with Criminal Law.
According to the MP, the office transferred Sut for her personal security. Like other judges and prosecutors working on high-profile transitional justice cases, Sut had faced harassment, threats, and spurious legal cases from pro-impunity groups. In 2022, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) granted Sut protective measures, ordering the State of Guatemala to guarantee her life, integrity, and ability to exercise independence in this position. Sut had not requested a transfer; she merely requested a security risk analysis.
For transitional justice advocates, this transfer is yet another blow to the Death Squad Dossier Case. In October 2021, Attorney General Consuelo Porras moved the head of the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office, Hilda Pineda, to the Office of Crimes Against Tourists. Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez–who oversaw the preliminary phase of the case and ruled to send the nine accused former military officers to trial last May–faced such intense harassment and legal persecution that he resigned and fled Guatemala in November of 2022. Gálvez stated that his work on the Death Squad Dossier Case “woke up some military components” that “generated the pressure that forced me to leave the country.”
Remains of Deceased Migrants Killed in Ciudad Juárez Begin to Arrive in Guatemala
Coffins containing the remains of deceased migrants began to arrive in Guatemala this week. This tragedy occurred in Ciudad Juárez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, on March 27. Forty individuals lost their lives in a fire that broke out in a migrant detention center run by Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM). Video footage of the horrific incident reveals authorities refusing to unlock the cell holding 68 migrants while flames engulfed the building. Of the victims, 19 were Guatemalans.
Communities across Guatemala mourned the tragic loss of life. From Quetzaltenango to Cobán, families collected their loved ones’ remains as they began to arrive from Mexico. In Totonicapan, community members close to one of the migrants held a ceremony to mourn their loss. One of the victim’s family members said, “It is a great pain that this tragedy has caused in the village.” In Coban, community members marched with signs demanding justice for their deceased neighbor.
On April 5, The UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families (CMW) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants issued a joint statement in response to the incident calling for investigations. It stated, “We urge the Mexican State to adequately gather evidence on the causes of the deaths, duly identify the victims and inform their families, and provide the necessary support for the transfer of the bodies.” The statement also condemned the conditions that allowed the tragedy to occur and called upon “Mexico and other States in the region to respect the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers, comply with their obligations under the International Convention and comply with the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders.”
US Calls Upon Guatemala to Ensure Free and Fair Elections
Amidst growing concern over the upcoming Guatemalan elections, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols called on the State of Guatemala to ensure free and fair elections this June. In a tweet, he said, “We support Guatemalans’ right to free, fair, peaceful elections,” and continued, stating, “Democracy depends on all citizens choosing their leaders from all qualified candidates without arbitrary barriers, exclusion, or intimidation. Inclusive, transparent elections protect the peaceful transfer of power.”
On June 25, the Guatemalan general elections will take place. The election will not only choose the new president but also 160 deputies to Congress, 20 to the Central American Parliament members, and 340 mayors for the next four years. However, the hope for free and fair elections is low. On January 27, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) denied the registration of the progressive candidates from the People’s Liberation Movement (MLP). Long-time Indigenous activist Thelma Cabrera and former Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas denounced their exclusion as the first steps in electoral fraud. On March 3, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) cited the blocking of their candidacy, calling upon the State of Guatemala to “guarantee political rights, pluralism, and equal participation in the country’s upcoming elections.”
Currently, the daughter of the former dictator Efrain Ríos Montt Zury Ríos leads in the polls. Ríos built her political career defending her father–convicted of genocide in 2013–and other former military personnel against legal proceedings for crimes against humanity committed during the Internal Armed Conflict (1960-1996). In her platform, Ríos promises a strong stance on national security mirroring the controversial policies of El Salvador’s President Nayibe Bukele, which has employed a militarized response to gang violence and land disputes.
Reports Confirm 2022 as the Worst Year on Record for Human Rights in this Century
The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) presented its Human Report for 2022 on March 23. The report, titled “Revenge as State Public Policy: Guatemala in Serious Democratic Crisis,” points to the breakdown of human rights conditions in Guatemala. For 2022, UDEDEGUA registered 3,574 attacks against defenders, three times higher than the 1,020 reported in 2021 and the highest ever recorded in the 23-year history of the organization. According to UDEFEGUA Director Jorge Santos, in today’s context, “anyone who is considered an opponent of the regime is persecuted.”
The report uses the term “revenge strategies” to describe a public policy implemented by the current administration to punish and silence all dissident voices. Tactics included harassment, intimidation, defamation, and violence against defenders. UDEFEGUA identified criminalization as the most common form of attack, with 1,737 cases registered. The report describes a pattern within criminalization cases that begins with defamation on social media and ends with the mounting of spurious charges that often lead to imprisonment or exile. According to the report, justice sector workers, transitional justice advocates, journalists, and environmental defenders were the most heavily targeted sectors. Defenders also suffered harassment, intimidation, physical attacks, and, in extreme cases, murder.
On March 20, the US State Department released its own report on the human rights situation in Guatemala that reflected similar patterns of abuse described by UDEFEGUA. The State Department illustrated key issues, like arbitrary detention, severe problems with the judiciary, violent attacks against Indigenous communities, the persecution of journalists and judicial sector workers, and widespread impunity. It cited the cases of Carlos Choc, José Rubén Zamorra, and Virginia Laparra as examples of these state-sponsored violations of human rights. Other cases mentioned included violence against Indigenous communities, where the report mentioned the attack on Q’eqchi human rights defenders and spiritual leader Adela Choc Cruz. Last May, armed assailants held Cruz hostage and threatened to burn her alive. In a meeting with GHRC’s emergency human rights delegation, Cruz explained that the attack was likely linked to her involvement in the anti-mining movement in El Estor.
UDEFEGUA makes the case that these attacks aim for the complete takeover of the State and the consolidation of a dictatorial regime. The Giammattei administration, according to UDEFEGUA, has launched a successful takeover of all governmental institutions, stacking them with pro-impunity allies. For Brenda Guillén, of UDEFEGUA, this State co-option is driving the human rights crisis. “The conditions of the country have generated an increase in violence against human rights defenders,” she stated. UDEFEGUA called upon the international community to support Guatemalan civil society, asking for stronger sanctions against the corrupt actors in both the State and private sector driving this crisis.
Further Attacks on Judicial Sector Workers Draw International Condemnation
On Thursday, March 16, at six in the morning, police and Public Ministry officials arrived at the home of former prosecutor Orlando Salvador López, raided his residence, and arrested him. López is accused of “abuse of authority” for allegedly taking on work as a notary public and lawyer in 2019 while still employed as a prosecutor. Five days later, on March 21, López appeared before the Fifth Pluripersonal Court of First Criminal Instance, Drug Activity, and Crimes against the Environment of Guatemala for his initial hearing. The judge ruled to send him to trial, placing him under house arrest.
López formerly served as head of the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office, where he helped build the prosecution for critical transitional justice cases like the Ixil Genocide and the Creompaz case. His work throughout the years has made him a target of pro-military factions within Guatemala, most notably the Foundation Against Terrorism (FCT), which incidentally is a plaintiff in this case. Following López’s arrest, head of the FCT Ricardo Méndez Ruiz celebrated on Twitter, accusing Lopez of “the illegal capture of our war veterans.” FCT, working hand in hand with the Public Ministry’s Office, has led the charge to punish honest judges and prosecutors, nearly 30 of whom have been forced into exile.
Human rights groups denounced his arrest, interpreting it as yet another politically motivated attack. According to Deputy Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch Juan Papier, this case exemplifies “a pattern of persecution against prosecutors and judges who investigated corruption and human rights violations in Guatemala.” The Observatory, the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) echoed concerns, calling his criminalization “an act of retaliation for the essential work he carried out as head of the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office to put an end to impunity for the serious human rights violations committed in the framework of the Internal Armed Conflict.”
Days later, the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) announced its plans to take legal action against former Commissioner of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) Francisco Dall’Anese. From 2010-2013, Francisco Dall’Anese led the CICIG from 2010-2013, overseeing investigations into high-level corruption. He was succeeded by Iván Velásquez, who also faces investigations from the FECI. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk condemned the move, stating, “It is particularly concerning that administrative and criminal proceedings are being used in apparent reprisal against those involved in investigating and prosecuting cases of corruption or serious human rights violations.”
In a statement, he shared his concerns over the deterioration of rule of law and democracy in Guatemala, citing clear patterns of criminalization against judicial sector workers and potential candidates. In reference to the refusal to register candidates Thelma Cabrera and Jordan Rodas for the People’s Liberation Movement (MLP), he said, “The right to participate in public affairs, including the right to vote and to stand for election, is an internationally recognized human right.” He called upon the State of Guatemala to allow judges and prosecutors to work freely without fear of reprisal and ensure free and fair elections.
Judge Allows Convicted Former Vice President Qualified to Receive Medical Treatments from her Home
Eva Recinos–judge of High-Risk Court B–granted former Guatemalan vice president Roxana Baldetti partial house arrest on March 13. To receive treatment for alleged back pains, Recinos ruled to permit Baldetti to leave Santa Teresita Detention Center four times a week. Baldetti was convicted last December, along with former president Otto Perez Molina, for fraud and conspiracy charges; the court sentenced her to 16 years. Despite efforts from the prosecution to have these treatments conducted inside the detention center, Baldetti will be allowed to return home. Judge Recinos did not establish concrete conditions nor time limitations for Baldetti’s therapies.
Meanwhile, the former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) in Quetzaltenango, Virginia Laparra, continues to suffer in prison, where authorities regularly deny her access to prompt medical attention. Laparra developed a uterine disease after spending the last year imprisoned and urgently needs surgery. Despite requests from her legal team starting in December, prison authorities have denied her permission to leave the prison to receive treatment. Instead, surgery is planned for sometime in May, but an exact date has not been set.
Bicameral Resolution Commends Environmental Defenders, Calls for Stronger Protections
On March 29, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Raúl Grijalva introduced a bicameral resolution to support environmental defenders worldwide. The resolution acknowledges defenders’ critical role in protecting the environment, combating climate change, and supporting democracy. In the context of rising violence against defenders, it calls upon the US to stand with those most at risk and serve as a leader in implementing robust protection strategies. “We must support environmental defenders worldwide who are exercising their fundamental rights of free expression and association to demand a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. They are risking everything to protect the environment and their human rights, and we should be doing all we can to support and protect those efforts,” stated Senator Merkley.
Recognizing Latin America as the most dangerous region for human rights defenders, with 1,179 defenders killed since 2012, the resolution includes examples of emblematic cases in the region. Notably, it mentions defenders from Q’eqchi communities in El Estor, which face “defamation, violent evictions, harassment, and assault by the Guatemalan National Civil Police Force for peacefully protesting the operations of the Fenix mine and growth of palm plantations on their territory.”
The resolution lays out suggestions for the US government to better support defenders, such as creating positions within the State Department and USAID dedicated to protecting defenders, requesting more robust transparency and accountability from both USAID and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to ensure that projects do not harm Indigenous communities and environmental defenders, and using the United States’ voice and influence in international financial institutions to ensure that funds are not given to any entities that have perpetrated violence against the environment and its defenders. The resolution is also supported by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).
Guatemala Faces International Backlash for Attacks on Freedom of the Press
On February 28, top prosecutor Cinthia Monterroso called for the investigation of nine journalists associated with the internationally acclaimed newspapers El Periodico and the Prensa Comunitaria. Monterroso alleged that the journalists opened themselves to charges of “spreading disinformation” and “obstruction of justice” by maliciously pursuing prosecutors, judges, and other members of Guatemala’s justice system in their reporting. Judge Jimi Bremer agreed and ordered the Public Ministry to investigate the activity of the nine journalists, as well as the sources of the newspaper’s funding.
Civil society organizations condemned the ruling, seeing the investigations as another attack against the media outlet. In July 2022, Guatemalan authorities arrested José Rubén Zamora–president and founder of El Periodico–on spurious charges. Despite international condemnation and calls for his release, Zamora has spent the last eight months in pre-trial detention. According to Committee to Protect Journalists Advocacy Director Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, “Judicial persecution against journalists is a mechanism of intimidation, and authorities in Guatemala need to put an end to their campaign to intimidate and threaten the press.”
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court in Guatemala City, carrying signs and chanting, “We won’t be silenced. Without journalism, there is no democracy.” At the Guatemalan embassies in Mexico City and Washington, DC, supporters stood in solidarity with the journalists, organizing demonstrations and leaving signs calling on the Guatemalan government to stop the criminalization.
US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price shared his concerns, condemning the attack on freedom of the press. He called upon the “Guatemalan justice system to reject the criminalization of independent journalists and support independent journalism as one of the foundations of a secure and prosperous democratic society.”
US Senators Call for Stronger Action on Corruption in Guatemala
In a letter addressed to Secretary of State Blinken, seven Senators urged the State Department to hold Guatemalan officials accountable for corruption. Signed by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Peter Welch (D-VT), the letter expressed concern about “the continuing deterioration of democracy and the rule of law in Guatemala.” It cited efforts by the Giammettei administration to attack independent judges and prosecutors, journalists, and civil society. According to the senators, “These attacks represent an intentional targeting and hollowing out of key institutions critical to a functioning democracy.”
In response to the ongoing institutional crisis in Guatemala, the senators called upon the Biden administration to take more decisive action, underscoring the need for US policy that creates real consequences for high-level corruption and human rights violations. They asked to State Department to “urgently review and update its approach in Guatemala in a manner that better aligns longstanding US values” and recommended the that the administration continue denying visas and freezing the economic assets and holdings in the US of those Guatemalan officials and private citizens who have engaged in acts of corruption or human rights violations or who have undermined democratic processes or institutions. Finally, the senators urged the administration to “make clear that the US-Guatemala relationship must remain grounded in a mutual and unwavering commitment to protecting democracy and democratic institutions–without exception.”
La Puya Resistance Demands Participation in Upcoming Consultation Process
On Monday, March 27, the La Puya Resistance and Indigenous communities affected by the El Tambor gold mine delivered a petition to the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM). The petition–signed by over 80 organizations and 2,500 individuals–calls upon the government to ensure the surrounding communities’ full, free, and safe participation in the court-ordered consultation. The petition also urges MEM to respect the communities’ rights without fear of retaliation in the face of a $400 million arbitration suit filed by the mine’s Nevada-based owners Kappes, Cassiday, and Associates.
On March 2, 2012, community members established a peaceful encampment outside the mine, uniting to defend their land and water from an open-pit gold mine threatening their communities. Over the years, KCA employees and state security forces employed harassment, intimidation, criminalization, and violence to destroy the community’s efforts to close the mine. In 2014, the resistance filed a legal motion against the mine, and in the end, the community’s efforts resulted in victory. On February 22, 2016, the Guatemalan Supreme Court upheld a ruling to suspend all mining operations. The Supreme Court’s ruling was based on the grounds that KCA, and its subsidiary EXMINGUA, had initiated operations without prior consultation with affected communities, as is required under Guatemalan and international law, particularly ILO Convention 169.
Now, however, the movement faces challenges. Following the suspension of mining activities, the mining company sued Guatemala for $400 million, claiming that the government failed to protect the company’s investment. Moreover, MEM has begun the court-ordered consultation process; however, it has already gotten off to a rocky start. So far, the government has refused to accredit a representative of the impacted Indigenous communities for the consultation. Community members fear that MEM and local government entities will follow the same playbook that was used to push through a consultation in El Estor in 2021, when the government declared a state of exception, limiting movement and basic rights, arbitrary arrests, and intimidation with excessive use of force by the security forces continued for weeks. The community’s chosen representatives were not allowed to participate in the consultation.
Communities and Organizations Announce Protests to Denounce Electoral Fraud
On March 13, organizations and communities throughout Guatemala held press conferences, announcing upcoming protests scheduled for Thursday, March 16. These protests–denouncing electoral fraud–will combine different sectors of Guatemalan civil society, including Indigenous authorities, human rights organizations, student movements, and more. Demonstrations are scheduled to begin at 8 am with road blockades and sit-ins in front of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).
Their response comes in the wake of ongoing irregular activity by the TSE. Over the weekend, magistrates from the TSE ruled to register Manuel Baldizón as a congressional candidate for the Cambio party, despite his 2019 conviction by the United States for money laundering and having two other cases pending against him. Meanwhile, the TSE rejected the presidential ticket with the People’s Liberation Movement (MLP) on the grounds that VP nominee Jordan Rodas faces charges related to his role as Human Rights Ombudsman. According to Marco Bran, of the Front of Professionals Against Electoral Fraud, the discrepancy in TSE candidate registration reflects “the decomposition of a system that is already dying.”
The TSE later repealed its decision, rescinding the registration of Baldizón, but citizens remained disillusioned. Bran stated, “We want to make our position clear as outraged citizens that this cannot continue.” So far, protests are planned in Guatemala City, Quetzaltenango, and Esquintla.
GHRC Statement on the 11th Anniversary of the La Puya Resistance
March 6, 2023
The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA congratulates the La Puya Movement for its eleven years of resistance. On March 2, 2012, community members established a peaceful encampment outside of the mine, uniting to defend their land and water from an open-pit gold mine owned by Nevada-based Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). Over the years, KCA employees and state security forces employed harassment, intimidation, criminalization, and violence in attempts to destroy the community’s efforts to close the mine. In the end, the community’s efforts resulted in a 2016 ruling by Guatemalan courts to suspend the operations until a proper consultation could be carried out. This ruling was upheld in 2017.
We are honored to have accompanied La Puya since its inception, awarding the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya the 2012 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award. We continue to support community members as they struggle to defend their rights as Indigenous peoples and human beings.
Now, however, the movement faces new threats to their rights. Following the suspension of mining activities in 2017, the mining company sued Guatemala for $400 million, claiming that the government failed to protect the company’s investment. Moreover, the consultation process mandated by Guatemalan courts took off to a rocky start. So far, the government has refused to accredit a representative of the impacted Indigenous communities for the consultation. Following the forced, irregular, and violent consultation in El Estor in 2021, community members fear that Guatemala’s Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and local government entities would use similar tactics to silence them and block their active and meaningful participation in the process.
On March 27, La Puya Resistance and the Indigenous communities impacted by KCA’s project delivered a petition to the MEM urging the government to ensure the communities’ full, free, and safe participation in the court-ordered consultation. Signed by more than 80 organizations and 2,500 individuals–including GHRC–the petition asks the MEM to prioritize the rights of Guatemalan citizens over an international corporation and to respect communities’ right to say no to the mining operation without fear of retaliation.
We, at GHRC continue to support their right to free, prior, and informed consent as established by the International Labor Organization Convention 169 (ILO 169). We call upon the State of Guatemala to carry out its duty and ensure the participation of all impacted communities in the consultation process, thereby securing their safety as participants.
Indigenous Survivors File for Injunction Against Former Dictator’s Daughter
On February 25, the National Day for the Dignification of the Victims of the Armed Conflict, survivors and families of the victims filed for an injunction against the candidacy of Zury Ríos. In a press conference outside of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), the National Platform of the Victims of the Armed Conflict asserted that the Constitution of Guatemala forbids direct relatives of coup leaders to run for President.
Ríos’ father, General Efraín Ríos Montt, came to power in a coup d’état on March 23, 1982. His de facto government served as one of the bloodiest periods of the internal armed conflict, marked by widespread massacres of mostly Indigenous communities. In 2013, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide against the Ixil people. The verdict, however, was reversed on a technicality just days later by the Constitutional Court (CC). According to representative of the Platform Feliciana Marcario, allowing Ríos to run for the position of head of state “is an action that goes against the dignity of the surviving families of the Internal Armed Conflict.”
Criminalized Prosecutor Denied Medical Care in Prison
On February 23, 2022, Guatemalan authorities arrested former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) in Quetzaltenango, Virginia Laparra. Accused of “abuse of authority,” Laparra was ordered by judges to remain in detention while awaiting her trial. International groups denounced the explicit criminalization of Laparra, demanding her release. UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite, urged authorities to free Laparra, stating, “I’m especially concerned about the irregularities in Ms. Laparra’s case and her continued detention in conditions that may put her health and safety at risk.” Laparra was convicted last December and sentenced to four years in prison.
In the last year, Laparra has been held in conditions of “psychological torture,” according to Amnesty International, which is “incompatible with human dignity.” She urgently needs surgery, but prison authorities are refusing her access to the care she needs any sooner than May. Director for the Americas at Amnesty International, Erika Guevara Rosas, stated, “Virginia Laparra must be released immediately and unconditionally; one more day in prison puts her health and rights at serious risk.”
Protesters Block Highways Across Guatemala, Demand Electoral Transparency
In the early morning of February 16, protesters gathered across Guatemala. Following the ruling from the Supreme Court (CSJ) not to accept the appeal from progressive candidates from the People’s Liberation Movement (MLP), supporters organized a national strike, calling the decision an “electoral coup” and demanding the registration of the candidates.
Two weeks earlier, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) rejected the registration of the MLP ticket of longtime Indigenous activist Thelma Cabrera and former Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas. Cabrera and Rodas challenged the decision by filing an appeal to the CSJ, which was denied. According to Rodas,”The national legal battle to demand the exercise of our civic and political rights as a binomial continues.” The duo plans to bring the case to the Constitutional Court (CC). Cabrera and Rodas also recently visited Washington, DC, to share their concerns about electoral fraud with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Meanwhile, protesters blocked highways and bridges in Guatemala throughout twelve different departments. Carrying signs, a large group of protesters gathered outside the TSE building, demanding transparency in the upcoming elections. Indigenous human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience Bernardo Caal stated, “Preventing the registration of Thelma Cabrera as a presidential candidate is an act of racism.” The strike continued throughout the week.
Security Forces Open Fire on Campesinos in the Petén, Killing One
On February 14, police opened fire on community members in La Revancha, Sierra de Lacandón, Petén. Witnesses report that while a group of campesinos tended to their crops, agents from the Nature Protection Division (DIPRONA) and the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) arrived, accompanied by members of the military and National Civil Police (PNC). The agents fired at the group, leaving four community members seriously injured. They were rushed to the hospital in El Paraíso for emergency medical attention, where thirty-eight-year-old Sergio López Osorio lost his life after succumbing to his wounds.
In a statement, the communities of Laguna del Tigre and Sierra de Lacandón denounced the attack and the “clear policy of persecution and extermination against this population.” The People’s Liberation Movement (MLP) echoed their sentiments, stating, “These practices are reminiscent of the years of the armed conflict.” The communities called upon the state to investigate the attack and reopen dialogue with communities impacted by the “Protected Areas Law.”
US Seeks to Solve Migration Crisis with Billion Dollar Investment Plan
On February 6th, even as Guatemalan authorities engage in a systematic evisceration of its justice system and private industry continues to dispossess Indigenous communities, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the next phase of her migration plan for Central America. Known as the “Root Causes Strategy,” this Vice Presidential initiative aims to tackle “the drivers of irregular migration by improving the conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras so people do not feel compelled to leave their homes.” In May of last year, Harris announced the creation of the Partnership for Central America (PCA) with a Call to Action to potential investors. This week, in a presentation for a group of US government officials and private sector leaders, Harris announced the next phase of the initiative: Central America Forward.
In this phase, the US government will enact a series of new commitments to encourage more private sector engagement. Harris announced a new wave of private sector commitments of $950 million, raising the total investment under the Call to Action to over $4.2 billion. New commitments include Columbia Sportswear, Target, and other companies looking to purchase more textiles from Central American clothing factories, also known as “maquilas.” These clothing factories are infamous for decades’ long abuse of workers and criminal disregard for local environments. It will also include more access to funding for private companies from the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
Even as the White House insists that “Central America Forward is a framework that goes beyond addressing the economic drivers of migration,” civil society organizations are deeply concerned at the plan’s failure to address the region’s persistent and alarming abuse of human rights, failure of the rule of law, and deeply entrenched corruption. “Addressing the root causes of forced migration from Central America must focus on urging governments of the region to serve their people-without corruption and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law,” said Director of the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) Lisa Haguard. She continued, “Investment pledges mean little or can be counterproductive if US policy fails to fully address the corruption and human rights violations faced by the rural and urban poor, Indigenous and Afrodescendant communities, women and lgbtq people, and human rights defenders in Central America.”
Last March, GHRC, LAWG, and 17 other organizations sent a letter to the DFC urging it to reassess its investment plans in Guatemala in light of rampant corruption and the breakdown of protections for human rights defenders and Indigenous communities. It stated, “A sound investment climate requires stability and strong institutions, as well as consistent adherence to rule of law.” Since then, conditions in Guatemala have only worsened. For 2022, Guatemala earned a historically low rating from Transparency International on its Corruption Perception Index–a rate unseen since 1996. Meanwhile, violent evictions in rural and Indigenous communities continue to rise.
Judge Grants House Arrest to Officers Accused of Crimes Against Humanity
On February 1, Judge Rudy Eleazar Bautista, granted house arrest to two ex-soldiers on trial for crimes related to the Death Squad Dossier Case. Salán Sánchez and Pérez Lorenzo face charges of forced disappearance, murder, attempted murder, and crimes against humanity. With this ruling, the two will no longer have to await their trials from prison.
Family members of the victims of the Death Squad Dossier Case, called the ruling a devastating blow to transitional justice in Guatemala. In a statement, they said, “This resolution adds to the long list of benefits that functionaries of impunity and corruption in Guatemala grant to perpetrators of serious crimes of corruption and crimes against humanity.” Since the discovery of the Dossier–a compilation of Guatemalan intelligence files discovered in 1999 detailing the torture and murder of over 183 “political dissidents” by security forces between 1982 and 1982–these families have worked tirelessly for justice for their loved ones. With the release of the defendants, the victims fear their own safety as they try to push the case forward. “We consider that it is an injustice,” said lawyer Santiago Choc. He continued, “This is a circumstance that offends the dignity of the victims, because they are failing to protect them.”
Swiss Delegation Confirms Mining Operations in El Estor Are Continuing
From January 25-28, our Guatemala Team led a delegation of visitors from Switzerland to investigate conditions in El Estor related to an illegal nickel mine which threatens local Indigenous communities. Currently owned by Swiss-Russian conglomerate Solway, the Fenix mine is an open pit nickel mine managed by Guatemalan subsidiaries MayaNiquel, Pronico, and the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN). Since its creation in El Estor, ownership of the mine has passed between multiple international companies who have left a trail of human rights abuses. Former Canadian owner Hudbay Minerals, for example, is currently facing an international lawsuit regarding sexual assault of 11 Q’eqchi women by company security. In October of 2021, Guatemalan security forces–acting at the direction of company management–violently attacked Q’eqchi protesters which was later condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as “excessive use of force.”
In another instance, on November 18, the US Department of Treasury sanctioned Russian national Dmitry Kudryakov, Belarusian national Iryna Litviniuk and three others for their role in exploiting the Guatemalan mining sector under the Global Magnitsky Act. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson stated,“We will use our tools to help ensure that corrupt profiteers face consequences for stealing from the Guatemalan people.” Solway leadership immediately denied its connection to both businesspeople and announced that operations would be suspended until further notice. Community members however, report that they can hear trucks transporting mining materials at night. The mining operations are continuing.