Guatemala News Update: October 5-9

Appeals court rejects amnesty for Ríos Montt

A Guatemalan appeals court has rejected former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt’s request for amnesty in a trial regarding Montt’s responsibility for war crimes and genocide. Though Montt was recently diagnosed with dementia, he will face a special, closed-door trial in early 2016. Due to his condition, Montt will be represented by his lawyers.

Ambassador Thomas Shannon Visits Guatemala

US Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, Counselor of the Department of State, traveled to Guatemala City from October 7-9.

In a meeting with President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, Shannon reiterated US political and financial support for Guatemala and for the Alliance for Prosperity — a development plan created by the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, with support from the US. The plan was initially a response to the influx of child migrants in the US from Central America, and Shannon lauded “advancements” in border security as well as in reducing trafficking and child migration. GHRC and partners presented concerns about migration and the Alliance for Prosperity at a congressional briefing on Sept. 16.

Shannon also reiterated the importance of CICIG, stating that the renovation of its mandate was “very important” for the US Congress.

Guatemala to Investigate Who Is to Blame in Mudslide

Guatemala’s public prosecutor’s office is conducting an investigation into who was responsible for a mudslide just outside of Guatemala City that left at least 250 people dead and several hundred missing. There had been warnings of a mudslide for weeks, and throughout the past fifteen years many have occurred. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: September 14-18

Violence in the Aftermath of REPSA Case Decision

Yesterday a judge in Guatemala ordered the temporary, six-month suspension of the activities of African Palm company REPSA while an investigation takes place into the company’s alleged role in the contamination of the La Pasión river.

Then, today, reports circulated that REPSA employees had kidnapped three human rights defenders in an alleged effort to pressure community members to withdraw their legal complaint against the company. In addition, Professor Rigoberto Lima Choc has reportedly been murdered; he was a key point person in the legal case against REPSA and one of the first people to publicly denounce the company’s contamination of the Pasión river.

Human rights group UDEFEGUA and others are denouncing that municipal authorities, police, and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office have failed to send representatives to the scene. GHRC will provide updates as more information becomes available.

Indigenous Leader Assassinated in Guatemala

GHRC mourns the death of Guatemalan Ixil spiritual guide and indigenous leader, Sebastián Sajic Córdova, who was violently attacked on September 11, 2015. There is some speculation that the killing may be linked to the fact that Córdova was a survivor and witness in the genocide trial against Efraín Ríos Montt, though details around the attack remain unknown. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: September 7-11


Jimmy Morales

Guatemala Comedian Wins First Round of Presidential Vote

Just days after former President Otto Pérez Molina resigned and was subsequently sent to prison, Guatemalans took to the polls on September 6 to elect a new leader. FCN candidate Jimmy Morales — a comedian with no political experience, but who has marketed himself as a “new option” — led the presidential race, winning almost 24% of the vote. Initial counts have revealed an extremely close race between the two second-place finishers, Manuel Baldizón (LIDER) and Sandra Torres (UNE). Although the final numbers are not yet known, Torres seems to hold a slight lead, and will likely face Morales in a runoff election set for October 25.

The overall mood remained peaceful and calm on election day, although several complaints were reported, including vote buying, interference from political parties, and ballot burning in some municipalities.

Analysts warn that whoever assumes the presidency will face a multitude of challenges, including a looming financial crisis and a citizenry that is no longer afraid to demand reform.

Read more about the elections on GHRC’s blog.

Guatemalan ex-President Pérez Molina indicted for corruption, sent to jail pending investigation

This week, former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was indicted and will face charges of criminal conspiracy, fraud and accepting bribes. Prosecutors will have three months to continue the investigation, during which time Pérez Molina will be held in preventative prison — an order that Pérez Molina’s lawyers have since appealed. On Wednesday, a court also froze some $700,000 in Pérez Molina’s bank accounts.

The former president maintains that he is innocent, and has accused the US of meddling in Guatemalan politics, endorsing the CICIG, and of orchestrating a “soft coup” against him. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update, August 24-28: 100,000 Join Protest in Guatemala City

Thousands Join Protest; Call for Resignation of Otto Pérez Molina

A general strike was called on Thursday, August 27 as an estimated 100,000 people gathered in Guatemala City’s central plaza to call for the resignation of President Pérez Molina, an end to corruption, and postponement of the upcoming elections. Many schools and businesses closed yesterday to allow for participation in the protest, and, in the end, Guatemala’s powerful business lobby — CACIF — also supported the strike.

The protest — the biggest yet in a series of mass mobilizations held over the last 17 weeks — comes just after President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named last week as the head of “La Linea,” a tax fraud scheme used to defraud the State of what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Baldetti was arrested on August 21 and is being charged with criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Pérez Molina, who has reiterated that he will not step down and has already survived one attempt from congress to strip him of his immunity from prosecution, is also implicated in the corruption network. Once again, Guatemala’s top court ruled on August 25 to accept a petition to repeal the president’s immunity, and the matter now awaits a decision from congress.

Protest-Aug27“It was incredible to feel the energy of everyone present,” said Dania Rodríguez, GHRC’s interim director of the Guatemala office. “The plaza was filled with families, students, representatives from the government and business sectors, artists, and indigenous authorities from different departments. People began arriving at 8:00 am, with many people staying until after 10:00 pm at night. “

Demonstrators used the space to call for the resignation of the president, holding signs that read “Yo no tengo presidente” (I don’t have a president) and “Renuncia Ya” (Step Down). The Attorney General’s office, the National Council of Bishops and the government comptroller’s office have also urged the president to resign.

“However, others,” Dania explained, “made calls for comprehensive government reform, for the possibility of a transitional government, for reforms to electoral law, and for the postponement of the national elections scheduled for September 6.”

To read more from GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones about concerns around the upcoming elections, click here. The protests were also covered by Democracy Now and were the subject of Al Jazeera’s August 27 episode of The Stream.

Genocide Retrial is Set for Guatemalan Former Dictator

On August 25, judges ruled that the re-trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez will move forward. On August 18, Montt was diagnosed with “incurable” dementia — the culmination of a series of psychiatric evaluations that had delayed the trial for weeks and threatened to shut down the case. Despite the fact that Montt is unable to appear in court, a closed-door trial will move forward with witnesses (but will not be open to the public). Judges also ordered that the physician who has been treating Montt be investigated for possible medical negligence and for potentially endangering his life.

Montt’s legal team will represent him in court, and the next hearing is set for January 11, 2016.

Earlier in August, GHRC Executive Director spoke about the case on Latin Pulse radio.

Corruption Investigations Implicate President; Guatemalans Urge Reforms Before Elections

BarramosCorruption-N.Rivera(A version of this article by Kelsey Alford-Jones was first published by TeleSUR)

Investigations into corruption in Guatemala have expanded to the highest levels of government as President Otto Pérez Molina and his former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named on Friday as the head of “La Linea,” a criminal structure that has been robbing an unknown amount — but what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars — from the State. Baldetti, who resigned on May 8, is in police custody, and will face prosecution for criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Guatemala’s top court also approved a process to repeal the president’s immunity from prosecution, and the matter now awaits a decision from the congress.

These investigations have spurred massive and sustained protests calling for the president’s resignation and represents a historic opportunity to bring about meaningful reform in a moment when the nation is on the verge of institutional collapse. With unprecedented momentum building to address unbridled government corruption and impunity, the biggest impediment to successful reform may be the September 6 elections.

Corruption Exposed

The move to bring the president and vice president to justice is only the latest development in a series of corruption scandals that have linked numerous high-level public officials, and all major political parties, to corruption and other illicit activities. In May alone, seven different government ministers resigned or were fired, many under investigation for charges ranging from granting anomalous contracts and influence trafficking, to criminal conspiracy and fraud. This week, numerous cabinet members resigned, including at least five more government ministers. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 17-24

Guatemala President Balks at Calls for Resignation

With just weeks until Guatemala’s general elections, public prosecutors and the CICIG revealed that they have uncovered enough evidence to place President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti at the top of a tax fraud scandal that has rocked the country since mid-April. Baldetti was arrested on August 21.

The announcement prompted another wave of resignations from government ministers; however, President Pérez Molina again rejected calls for his resignation in a public statement on Sunday.

Guatemalans Say Reforms Needed Before Any Future Election

In this opinion piece, GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones discusses Guatemala’s current political context, ponders what might happen next in the country, and explains the risks of moving forward with elections without much-needed reforms.

A related article also highlights the dismal conditions for holding Guatemala’s presidential election.

Doctors say Guatemala ex-dictator Rios Montt has dementia

On August 18, a team of medical evaluators ruled that Ríos Montt suffers from “incurable” dementia, a development which could prevent Montt from ever again facing trial. This was the final decision in a series of psychiatric evaluations of Montt that has delayed the trial for weeks. In a hearing is set for August 25, judges will decide whether or not the retrial will move forward. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 4-7

‘Obnoxious’ La Puya Members Will Not Make the Gold Mine Go Away, CEO Says

Vice News

Vice News

In a Vice News article, Jeff Abbott reports on the recent victory won by La Puya in a local Guatemalan court and his interview with Dan Kappes, CEO of mining company Kappes, Cassiday, & Associates (KCA), while on his recent trip to Guatemala.

Despite the court’s ruling that KCA had obtained an invalid construction license and its order for the company to suspend all construction at El Tambor within 15 days, Kappes stated in the interview that, “the construction license is a moot point.” In addition to claiming that the company had in fact carried out a consultation with the community, Kappes also asserted: “I guess the protesters think that if they are obnoxious enough, the mine will go away.”

Leading up to the 15-day deadline, GHRC delivered an open letter to KCA with over 2,200 signatures, demanding that the company comply with the court decision. Despite these actions, KCA has as of now decided to continue operations at the mine.

GHRC will continue to support La Puya, and urge KCA to abide by Guatemalan law.

5 Guatemalan Soldiers Detained Following Leaked Video

Police in Guatemala have detained five soldiers on abuse of authority charges after a video circulated on social media showing them beating two teenagers. The incident occurred on July 26 after an army patrol received a report from neighbors that the minors in the video were allegedly drinking and assaulting people, according to army spokesperson Hugo Rodriguez. The video shows the five soldiers repeatedly kicking the boys in the stomach, slapping them, and pulling them off the ground by their hair, among other forms of abuse. According to the article, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) opened an investigation of the two soldiers, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that it will also initiate an investigation.

Land Rights Victory for Poqomchi’ Community in Alta Verapaz

Upside Down World

Upside Down World

Nearly 300 Poqomchi’ Maya families residing in the Primavera communities of Alta Verapaz have won a significant victory in their fight for land rights. On July 14, community representatives and the Guatemalan Land Fund signed documents to officially recognize three communities as the owners of the approximately 800 hectares of land where they have been residing for over 200 years.

The Secretary of Agrarian Affairs oversaw the titling of the land to the communities, after the land had been occupied by Maderas Filips Dias/Eco-Tierra, a logging company, and various other transnational companies harvesting palm oil and sugar cane without the consent of the community. Continue reading