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

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.

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.

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

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

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