We share the statement by the International Forum of NGOs in Guatemala (FONGI) regarding the acts of violence against Mr. Esteban Hermelindo Cux integrante from the Farmer’s Committee for Unity (CUC).
On Wednesday, August 10th, Santos Lopez Alonzo was deported by the United States to Guatemala. Alonzo, a Guatemalan military official who served during the internal armed conflict, is wanted for his participation in the Dos Erres massacre of 1982 in which over 200 residents of Dos Erres were brutally murdered.
Oscar Sanchez, an Indigenous authority from the town of San Pablo in the San Marcos department, was reportedly arrested without a warrant on August 4th on the charges of kidnapping and illicit association. Sanchez’s arrest follows a pattern of Indigenous rights activists facing trumped-up legal charges against them because of their work on behalf of their community and because they have also been vocal opponents of hydroelectric projects in the region.
This week, California-based NGO the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), and the Guatemalan Diocesan Committee in Defense of Nature (CODIDENA), provided the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with a report that provides evidence that the mining company Tahoe Resources had lied to investors. The report showed that the company had failed to acknowledge to investors that the company’s mining project in Guatemala had been continually opposed by Indigenous communities.
Civil Society Pressure Shines a Spotlight on Ongoing Environmental Destruction and Murder in Guatemala’s Palm Sector
June 8, 2016
One year after a massive spill of toxic palm oil effluent into Guatemala’s Pasión River that was labeled an ‘ecocide’ by a Guatemalan court, and nine months after the killing of a Guatemalan activist who denounced the spill, social movement groups in Guatemala are still demanding justice, and companies have begun to recognize that such violence and ecocide must not be tolerated.
Last week, Cargill, one of the largest purchasers of palm oil from Guatemala, published a statement requiring REPSA, the Guatemalan company that was the defendant in the ecocide case, to take a series of actions to prevent future violence. The same day, REPSA published a “Policy on Non Violence and Intimidation.”
The companies’ statements come in the wake of a series of tragic events, and as a response to continued pressure from Guatemalan civil society and international advocacy groups.
Following a deadly spill of pesticide-laden palm oil waste into the Pasión River in the municipality of Sayaxché in northern Guatemala in June 2015, a Guatemalan court ruled the spill an “ecocide” and ordered that REPSA suspend operations pending investigation. Immediately following the ruling, in September, 2015, one of the plaintiffs, Q’eq’chi Mayan schoolteacher Rigoberto Lima Choc, was shot and killed.
In response, civil society groups in Guatemala have pursued a series of legal actions and non-violent protests, and a coalition of international advocacy groups including Friends of the Earth-US, Rainforest Action Network, ActionAid USA, Oxfam America and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA have called on global palm oil giants Wilmar, Cargill, IOI, ADM, AAK and Bunge to publicly denounce the violence, cut ties to REPSA, and take clear steps to address human rights risks in their supply chains. Friday’s statements from Cargill and REPSA are the first visible signs that companies recognize the need to address civil society’s demands.
“The clear denunciation of violence by both Cargill and REPSA is a positive step and clearly needed given the recent murder and kidnapping of activists,” said Gemma Tillack, Agribusiness Campaign Director for Rainforest Action Network. “The statement issued by Cargill contains a number of clear demands that REPSA must comply with to maintain contracts – but this falls short of local civil society demands for the shut down of REPSA’s palm oil operations that were responsible for the ecocide of the Pasión River.”
“Cargill’s public position against violence and REPSA’s promise of reform are significant,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Program Director at Friends of the Earth-US. “But real transformation will only come when the rights of local people take full precedence over the profits of agribusiness.”
“REPSA has thus far not engaged civil society groups effectively and there is no indication that the security situation in the region will allow for meaningful and safe dialogue with local groups,” Conant added. “There is a clear need for the companies to act – but company engagement in regions suffering high levels of violence and weak governance is extremely delicate. The companies must take their cues from the demands of organized civil society in Guatemala to avoid creating more conflict.”
The anniversary of the June, 2015 toxic leak and fish kill that covered over 100 kilometers in the Pasión River was marked by a march in which some 800 residents of Sayaxché took to the streets to demand justice. A key demand of many local groups is that REPSA permanently cease its operations in the region.
REPSA’s Non-Violence and Intimidation Policy is open for two months of public comment, but the company has not yet provided a plan for engagement with local stakeholders. Cargill has made it known that in order to continue doing business with REPSA, REPSA must “engage local communities and civil society groups… to rebuild trust by creating a participatory process in partnership with local communities and civil society.”
Relations between the palm oil supplier and local groups is especially tense due to the unresolved murder of environmental and human rights defender Rigoberto Lima Choc immediately following a court ruling against REPSA last September. The international NGO coalition is concerned that the companies’ positions are out of touch with local communities that are calling for the full rejection of REPSA’s operations in the region.
“Lima Choc’s murder shows the severity of the threats facing activists, and remains an open wound that will not be healed by words on paper,” said Kelsey Alford-Jones, Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. “Yesterday, hundreds of brave community members gathered in Sayaxché to demand that REPSA permanently close down its operations.”
“Thousands of Guatemalans rely on the Pasión River to earn a living and feed their families, but the negligent actions of REPSA are putting their way of life at risk. REPSA and its parent company, Grupo Olmeca, must be held to account for the damage its operations have done to these communities,” said Doug Hertzler, Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid USA.
It is too early to tell what repercussions Cargill’s statement may have for the resolution of grievances in Guatemala, or for its palm oil supply, much of which is sold in Europe.
“While some companies that source from REPSA and Grupo Olmeca, including Cargill, have listened to civil society asks and taken positive steps, others remain silent,” noted Oxfam America Policy Advisor Aditi Sen. “All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and must have transparent processes in place to investigate human rights impacts in their supply chains and ensure that those harmed by their operations or suppliers are able to access remedy.”
Other companies that purchase from REPSA, directly or indirectly, include global palm oil traders Wilmar, IOI, ADM, AAK and Bunge.
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Friends of the Earth-United States
Rainforest Action Network
For more information on the case, visit GHRC’s website: http://www.ghrc-usa.org/our-work/current-cases/african-palm-oil-production-repsa-ecocide-case/
The Guatemalan court hearing the case against Rios Montt will be moved to Santa Maria Nebaj in western Guatemala for three days to hear 15 elderly witnesses who are too unwell to travel to the capital. They will testify on the murders, displacement, and the burning of their fields that occurred during the civil war.
BaudilioHichos, who was a member of the Guatemalan Congress for 25 years, has been linked to a “white van unit.” These units, also known as “white van” death squad, were tied to Guatemala’s Treasury Police during the Guatemalan civil war. These units were used to disappear citizens at all hours of the day, and became a form of psychological terror. Hichos spent approximately 12 years as a part of the Treasury Police.
The intermediate-stage hearing scheduled for April 19 in the Molina Theissen case, an emblematic case GHRC and international partners have been closely monitoring. Yet it was suspended by the presiding judge before it began. As the trial was set to begin the judge stated she had processed an appeal filed by one of the accused, Letona Linares, challenging a prior ruling from March 1, 2016 denying application of the National Reconciliation Law (“amnesty law”). In sharing her decision, she said that although the law required the hearing to move forward, she considered it necessary to suspend the opening of the hearing to avoid later rulings that could force the repetition of previous stages of the trial. The judge’s decision allows for more delay tactics which violates the right to access to justice for the victims of serious human rights violations, and was immediately denounced by the Molina Theissen family.
Land & Water Rights
The Popular and Social Assembly planned a march in defense of water, drawing hundreds of supporters, which began on April 11thin Tecún Umán, San Marcos and will conclude on Earth Day, April 22nd, in Guatemala City’s Constitutional Plaza. The objectives of the march, as stated by the Quetzaltenango Maya K’iche’ Council are to demand the return and protection of the rivers, lakes, lagoons, and coastal areas from economic purposes, fortify their fight in defense of water, denounce criminalization and political persecution of water rights defenders, and raise awareness among the Guatemalan public on these issues.
Lawsuit against Canadian mining company to move forward
Thousands of documents will be handed over to the lawyers of numerous Guatemalans whom have filed negligence Margarita Caal Caal who along with 10 other women from her village were reportedly raped in 2007 when being evicted from her land by men saying that the land belonged to a Canadian mining company. The lawsuit, filed in Canada against Hudbay Mineral, Inc, is the first of its kind since previously Canadian courts have claimed to not have jurisdiction over cases where the incident occurred in another country. In addition to the claims of rape, Hudbay is also facing claims over the death of local leader Adolfo IchChaman and the shooting and paralysis of a bystander German Chub in 2009.
60 communities from both sides of the Mexico-Guatemala border are opposing a hydroelectric project that would potentially displace those communities. The Boca del Cerro dam is just one of five hydroelectric projects planned for the Usumacinta River which runs between the two countries.
On April 7, environmental analysts from the US, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala reported on Guatemala’s extractive industries and called on Guatemala to stop awarding mining licenses as well as begin consultation processes to determine how best to regulate the industry. The study shows that due to legal and institutional weaknesses, the Guatemalan government “runs the risk that the holders of mining titles will not assume their responsibilities” and public money and resources will have to be used to finance the expenses of mine rehabilitation and closure.
In early April, 14 people were arrested on suspicion of forcing poor farmers to sell their land at cut-rate prices. Approximately 28 farms were bought in this way and then resold at market prices. This land had originally been given to the farmers as part of the 1996 Peace Accords.
On April 14, a tunnel collapsed inside Goldcorp’s Marlin mine. Originally reported as missing and likely trapped underground, 26 year old Jaime Lopez has since been reported dead. The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction, David de Leon, has assured that the accident occurred to seismic activity and the rescue teams had followed all rescue procedures. A family member of one of the miners said the managers of the mining company took away their cell phones so they wouldn’t publicize the incident.
Indigenous leaders are meeting with the United Nations this week to plan a meeting on global indigenous issues.
President Jimmy Morales has a poor record on indigenous rights issues, having mocked them in his past occupation as a comedian and his failure to halt large scale extraction projects and agriculture that lead to indigenous displacement.
Nevertheless, sixteen representatives from indigenous communities around the world met with leaders like President Morales and to discuss issues important to indigenous groups, such as cultural, social, and economic rights, as well as education, health and the environment.
President Jimmy Morales took office almost 100 days ago on a platform calling for change in corrupt practices, however Guatemalans claim that they have seen little changes in administrative practices. This comes in addition to the Observatory of Guatemala’s Indigenous Communities claimed that the new government under Jimmy Morales was “racist,” “discriminatory,” and “aimless.” They stated that they had seen “100 days of political backsliding and 100 days of growing corruption and poverty.”
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales requested an extension of the anti-corruption body, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, this week on his first visit to the United Nations in New York. While the mandate had already been extended by former President Otto Perez Molina (ousted due to corruption charges last year) to last until 2017, President Morales’s new request stretches the Commission’s mandate until 2019.
The Spanish company, Group TCB, paid the former president and vice president of Guatemala approximately $25 million in bribes in exchange for securing a 25 year contract for building and managing a new port terminal. While the president stated that Group TCB offered the best deal for the country, there were no competing bids. These charges will be added to those that the former president and vice president are facing for their involvement in the customs corruption scandal known as La Linea, or the Line. Other government officials who were in office during Perez Molina’s presidency have also been linked to the corruption scandals.
US Company Kappes Cassiday & Associates and Guatemalan subsidiary, Exmingua, continue to mine gold illegally in San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala.
On February 22, 2016, the Guatemalan Supreme Court granted an injunction that suspends the granting of KCA’s license for extraction of gold and silver at the El Tambor mine. The Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines, the body responsible for carrying out the administrative procedures to suspend the license, have refused to do so.
In response, families have camped out in front of the ministry, demanding they enforce the ruling.
The Guatemalan congress has called on the Minister to justify his lack of action.
As the pressure mounts, the US-owned mine continues to operate. The waste-water tailing pond continues to fill as material is extracted and treated with a chemical bath – procedures not fully addressed in the Environmental Impact Assessment, and without any oversight regarding the structural integrity of the holding tank or mandatory testing of possible contamination of the local water supply.
With communities again blocking the entrance to the mine, Exmingua employees have taken to illegally transporting petroleum for mining machinery by foot. They were stopped by the police on at least one occasion, but a recent video captured them exiting with empty canisters.
In the last couple of days, the company has begun to use helicopters to carry large containers in and out of the mine.
Despite intense US pressure on the Guatemalan government to address corruption and improve rule of law, the Embassy has been silent on a US Company’s alleged evasion of legal procedures and it’s ongoing operations despite multiple court injunctions.
Communities in the area have been in non-violent resistance since 2011, and have maintained a presence outside the mine for over 4 years. Continue reading
The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA condemns in the most strongest of terms the killing of world renowned environmental activists and human rights defender Berta Cáceres of Honduras. According to reports Berta Cáceres was killed by armed assailants early in the morning March 3rd. Berta led and founded the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), and was the winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Gustavo Castro, a fellow activist from Otros Mundos, was also injured in the attack. GHRC calls for an immediate investigation into this heinous crime and that those responsible be prosecuted and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. GHRC also calls for immediate action to be taken to ensure the protection of Gustavo Castro, a key witness in this murder.