Guatemala News Update: March 9-13

International Women’s Day Celebrated in Guatemala

International Women’s Day was celebrated worldwide on March 8; in Guatemala, the day was marked with festivities, conferences and articles dedicated to women’s rights. Women held a march, and members of the Alliance Against Criminalization held a press release to call for greater protections for women land and human rights defenders.

Guatemalan Vice-president Roxana Baldetti made use of the occasion to address women’s rights at the UN as part of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. During his recent visit to Guatemala, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also spoke about gender equality, stating that aid from Spain would prioritize combating gender violence.

Two Reporters Shot Dead, Third Injured in Guatemala

On March 10, 2015, in an attempt to assassinate three journalists in the southern city of Mazatenango, two were killed and one was seriously injured. One of the men killed, Danilo López, had received death threats after reporting on corruption in the region. According to Guatemalan police, one of the suspects has now been captured.

GHRC condemned the attack, and called on the Guatemalan government to thoroughly investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice. Read a statement from GHRC and partner organization UDEFEGUA here.

Slow Advances in the Genocide Case

A sanction imposed on Judge Yassmin Barrios, for actions she took as judge in the trial of Efraín Ríos Montt in 2013, has been finally been revoked by the Constitutional Court. The initial sanction included temporary suspension from office for one year and a fine of 5,400 Quetzales.

As the genocide case remains indefinitely delayed, one of the witnesses — Pedro Chávez Brito — has died of an illness. Brito is the second witness to pass away while the case remains in legal limbo, calling attention to the need to restart the process as soon as possible.

Activists Protest the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) in Toronto

Activists partnering with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) protested on March 1 outside the world’s largest mining convention in Toronto, Canada. Among the conference’s sponsors is Goldcorp, a company well known for its human rights violations in Guatemala. Demonstrators also infiltrated the conference with fake programs for the “Corporate Social Responsibility” events.

Central American Alliance for Prosperity Has ‘Business’ Focus

The “Alliance for Prosperity” plan was initially launched in cooperation between the governments of the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and the US to help unaccompanied minors fleeing from Central America to the US. However, Central American officials have prioritized meeting with business representatives over civil society actors — raising concerns that the funds might be diverted to the private business sector.

Guatemala News Update: March 2-6

Vice President Biden Visits Guatemala

Joe Biden met with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to discuss in detail the Alliance for Prosperity Plan. Following an initial meeting, Biden and the presidents of the Northern Triangle countries payed a visit to the Ixchel Museum to meet with members of the private sector, where Biden stressed the need for business owners to invest in their own countries.

Biden also urged Guatemala to continue the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), and met with CICIG Commissioner Velazquez to underscore the importance of the commission’s work. In a response to Biden’s comments, President Pérez Molina rejected the notion of using the extension of the CICIG as a precondition for receiving US funding.

“Smaller than David”: The Struggle of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala

Human rights groups The Observatory and UDEFEGUA have launched a report and documentary film about the vulnerability of human rights defenders in Guatemala. The report highlights the targeting of land rights defenders via criminalization, threats and physical violence. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 23-27

Criminalization of Community Leaders from La Puya: Four Leaders Acquitted Today Puya-650Today, four community leaders who had been active in the “La Puya” environmental movement – Fernando Castro Carrillo, Eusebio Morales Díaz, Francisco Carrillo Catalán, and Gregorio Catalán Morales – were declared not guilty of the crimes of kidnapping, coercion and threats against three employees from the El Tambor mine.

The first hearing of the case against the four leaders – as well as a fifth leader, Yolanda Oquelí – was held on May 27, 2014. Although the judge dismissed charges against Oquelí based on “lack of evidence,” the process continued against the four men. Four more hearings were held in order to hear witnesses, expert opinions, and the testimonies of the mine workers. Closing arguments were made on February 25, 2015, with the Public Prosecutor’s Office calling for a total of five years in prison for each of the accused.

In a prior case from April 2014, a separate group of three other leaders from La Puya were found guilty of illegally detaining and threatening employees of the El Tambor mine in 2012. Each leader – despite the absence of credible evidence – was sentenced to nine years in jail, which could be waived by paying a fine of approximately $4,212 (just over a dollar a day for the entirety of their sentence). The men have appealed the case, and are awaiting a trial set for August 2015.

Defense lawyers for both cases have demonstrated a flawed judicial process in which the public prosecutors failed to carry out an objective investigation, did not provide conclusive evidence, and arbitrarily accused members of La Puya for crimes it could not verify. According to the lawyers, these cases are clear examples of criminalization. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 16-20

Tribunal Formed to Rule on Amnesty for Ríos Montt

Guatemala’s First Court of Appeals has rejected a challenge made by Ríos Montt’s defense against Judge Edith Marilena Pérez Ordóñez, who was confirmed as the third member of a tribunal that will rule on Montt’s petition for amnesty.

Vice President of US to Visit Guatemala

In early March, Vice President Joe Biden will hold two days of meetings with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to discuss implementation of the “Alliance for Prosperity” plan.

In a related article, Julio Ligorría — Guatemala’s ambassador to the US — discusses cooperation between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the US regarding development and security crises. The ambassador also discusses Guatemala’s active role in the implementation of the “Alliance for Prosperity” plan.

Operation Eye of the Falcon Fighting Drugs in Guatemala with US Support

The Guatemalan government has announced a new law enforcement operation, called “Eye of the Falcon,” in order to break up drug trafficking organizations. The operation will focus on Guatemala’s Pacific coast and involves both US and Guatemalan anti-drug agents. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update February 9-13

Former Dictator Ríos Montt Could Stand Trial for Dos Erres Massacre

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court declared on February 6 that former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt could be prosecuted for the “Dos Erres” massacre. Nearly 300 people were murdered in 1982 in the village of Dos Erres by the Guatemalan military’s special forces, the Kaibile, under the de facto administration of Ríos Montt.

Obama’s Central America Rescue Plan Will Only Make Life There Worse

This article argues that the “Alliance for Prosperity” plan, which promotes economic development in Central America as a mechanism to curb migration, could have adverse effects in the region. By promoting spending on infrastructure and foreign investment, the plan could actually exasperate the problems that vulnerable local communities face when dealing with rapid macroeconomic development. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 2-6

US Continues Restrictions on Guatemalan Military Aid 

This article discusses continued US pressure on the Guatemalan government to reduce the role of the military across the country, even as Otto Pérez Molina’s administration has overseen the expansion of the military into law enforcement and recently passed a new executive order supporting nine reserve military squadrons to assist with “citizen security” and help “combat organized crime.”

The military is also being used to protect the interests of foreign and multinational corporations working in Guatemala, and to threaten and intimidate land rights activists. Although conditions on US funding remain in place, the US continues to provide support and training to the Guatemalan army in order to combat drug trafficking.

GHRC, quoted in the article, has raised concerns about the increased militarization of daily life in Guatemala, noting that it is also a violation of the peace accords.

US Ambassador to Guatemala Advocates for Extension of the CICIG

US Ambassador Todd Robinson has expressed support for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), stating that he will seek out support from the international community for its continuation.

Although Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina recently announced that he would not request an extension for the CICIG, several Guatemalan and international civil society groups have called for its continuation. A survey by the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce also found that 70% of those interviewed are in favor of extending the mandate of the CICIG for another two years.

This week, heads of the institutions that make up the justice sector also held a closed-door meeting to discuss the permanence of the CICIG; a decision about the extension will be made within the next two months. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: January 26-30

Update on the Genocide Case

Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Science (INACIF) informed on Friday, January 23rd that the results of Montt’s latest medical evaluation show irreversible neurological damage caused by osteomyelitis, the disease diagnosed by INACIF only two weeks before. Though the medical results have proven Montt’s grave status, Judge Flores has ordered weekly evaluations to determine if the he will be able to be present at the next court hearing.

The case continues at a standstill, as further complications and delays have arisen due to concerns from both parties regarding the lack of impartiality of the judges. At the beginning of the re-trial, Montt’s team –though having knowledge of the Judge’s academic background for over a year– suddenly accused Irma Jeannette Valdés Rodas of impartiality.

Judge Valdés was forced to recuse herself from the case and this week, lawyers representing victims in the genocide case presented an objection against the head judge of the Appeals Court that will rule on the recusal. The lawyers argue that Anabella Esmeralda Cardona is not impartial due to her in courses and conferences hosted by the military. The trial will be delayed until both motions are resolved.

Other legal objections from the defense are likely to cause further delay and, according to the International Justice Monitor, it is becoming increasingly uncertain that Ríos Montt will face a re-trial.

Updates in the Spanish Embassy Case

Former chief of the Guatemalan National Police, Pedro García Arredondo, who was found guilty of causing the deaths of 37 people during the 1980 attack on the Spanish embassy case, has been transferred to a hospital in Guatemala City. Moisés Galindo, Arredondo’s lawyer, claims the accused has diabetes and that the disease has created complications on a minor foot injury. Arredondo has been granted a legal authorization for temporary stay at the hospital.

Arredondo was also ordered to pay reparations of Q9 million (approximately US$1.2 million) to the victims’ families. The money is to be divided among the families of six of the victims. Continue reading