Guatemala News Update: July 13-24

Rios Montt Sent for Psychiatric Observation, Delaying the Genocide Trial

Tele Sur TV

Yesterday, ex-Dictator Efrain Rios Montt was placed in a psychiatric hospital for observation by the Guatemalan Court overseeing his retrial for genocide. The court said its ruling was to protect Rios Montt’s health, and was also requested by the Public Ministry, after the defense found him incompetent to stand trial. It has been reported that Rios Montt will be in observation for nine days, delaying his retrial once again.

Senate Published Draft Budget

On Thursday, July 9, the Senate passed a foreign assistance budget allocating $675 million for Central America, with $142 million designated specifically for Guatemala. The bill contains important restrictions, conditions and reporting requirements for Guatemala – including restrictions on funds to the Guatemalan Army. Conditioning US funds based on compliance with human rights investigations and accountability is one thing GHRC and our partners advocate for every year as a tool to leverage positive change in Guatemala, and we were pleased to see many of our recommendations including in the Senate Bill.

Victory for La Puya: Guatemalan Court Orders Suspension of Construction Operations at the El Tambor Mine

GHRC applauds the July 15 resolution by a Guatemalan appeals court which ruled in favor of the right of residents to be consulted about projects that affect them and ordered the suspension of construction activities at the mine.

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The court found the company was operating illegally, “without permit, authorization or approval from the Municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc…to carry out its mining project” and that the responsibility falls to the Municipal Council to enforce the law. GHRC has called on the US Embassy to encourage the company to comply with the verdict, and suspend all construction activities at its mine site until a community consultation is held.

Further recognition of the work of land rights activists continues with the comprehensive account published by Jeff Abbott of Vice News of the country’s unified effort to end corruption within the current political crisis of Guatemala, and describes the role of indigenous communities in current social movements, including resistance efforts against mining and hydroelectric projects.

Judge Confirms Soldiers will be charged not with extrajudicial execution, but with murder in self-defense, for 2012 killing of indigenous protesters

On October 4, 2012, approximately 15,000 members of the indigenous communities in Totonicapán, Guatemala gathered to block five key transit points on the Pan-American Highway to protest the excessive electricity prices, changes to the professional teacher training requirements, and proposed constitutional reforms. A military contingent of 89 soldiers confronted the protestors. As a result, six protesters were killed, 40 were wounded by the military, and one of the protesters was disappeared during the confrontation. The Totonicapán massacre was the first by the military since the war.

After years of delays, a judge, Carol Patricia Flores has confirmed that the nine soldiers involved will be charged of murder in self-defense (“en estado de emocion violenta), rather than for extrajudicial execution. Flores herself faces allegations put forward by the CICIG and Public Ministry of illicit enrichment and money laundering. The Supreme Court will soon decide if Flores should face criminal investigation.

Criminal Charges Filed against former Minister of Energy and Mines

On July 12, 2015, the Guatemalan Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action (CALAS) filed criminal charges against former Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM), Erick Archila, and former Mines Director at MEM, Fernando Castellanos. Archila and Castellanos are accused of violating the Constitution and for breach of duty, as they granted Tahoe Resources an exploitation license without adequate consideration of more than 250 community complaints against the project. CALAS called on the CICIG to fully investigate the Escobal licensing process, citing Archila’s possible involvement in influence trafficking and illicit enrichment.

UN Report Concludes that Criminal Organizations Fund 25% of the Country’s Politics

A recent report conducted by the UN’s CICIG demonstrated that a quarter of the money supplied for the cost of Guatemalan politics comes from criminal organizations, primarily drug traffickers. The report released on Thursday also stated that dishonest money and corruption financially fuel the political system of the country. “Corruption is the unifying element of the Guatemalan political system based on an amalgam of interests that include politicians, officials, public entities, businessmen, non-governmental organizations and criminal groups,” said CICIG Commissioner Ivan Velasquez.

In fact, on July 15, the Vice Presidential candidate for the Lider Party, currently leading polls, was accused of corruption, specifically of illicit association and influence trafficking. Authorities allege that Edgar Barquin was a part of a criminal network led by businessman Francisco Morales to create ghost companies in order to channel over $120 million to China, the US, Colombia, and others countries. 

Meanwhile, Guatemala’s electoral court ruled that Zury Rios Sosa, the daughter of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, could not run for president, a decision quickly overruled by the Supreme Court. Former president Portillo, 2000-2004, was also denied his candidacy for congress. Portillo recently returned to Guatemala after serving a 70-month sentence in US prison for laundering money from the Taiwanese government during his administration.

Public attention is more focused on the multitude of corruption scandals than on the upcoming elections; the OAS, however, has announced it will send a mission to monitor the process.

“Supreme Court on the Side of the Guatemalan People”

The Guatemalan Supreme Court has ruled to allow a congressional probe into corruption allegations against President Perez Molina to continue. If his immunity is withdrawn, he could face charges before his term ends in January 2014.

Guatemala News Update: July 6-10

Ríos Montt. Photo by James Rodríguez

Ríos Montt. Photo by James Rodríguez

Ex-ruler Ríos Montt found unfit for trial

Attorneys for Efraín Ríos Montt have requested that the genocide case against him be dismissed after an investigation by Guatemala’s National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF) deemed Montt unfit to stand trial. INACIF released a statement on July 7 declaring that the 89-year-old would not be able to respond accurately to questioning due to his mentally incapacitated state.

Following years of delays, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and war crimes in May 2013. The case was celebrated throughout Guatemala and Latin America as the first case in which a former dictator was convicted of genocide in a domestic court. The decision was rescinded 10 days later by the Constitutional Court due to a questionable legal technicality. The retrial was set for January of this year, but additional delay tactics further derailed the case. A hearing is scheduled for July 23, 2015 to determine whether the trial will move forward, although it seems unlikely that the case will proceed.

CICIG Captures Former Minister of Energy and Mines and Former Private Secretary for President Pérez Molina

On July 9, the CICIG announced the arrests of several more public officials on corruption charges including  another individual close to President Pérez Molina — Gustavo Martinez. Martinez is the president’s son-in-law and former private secretary, and has been arrested for alleged influence trafficking. According to the CICIG’s website, Martinez had inserted meetings with various companies into President Pérez Molina’s schedule in exchange for bribes. Former Vice Minister of Energy and Mines, Edwin Ramon Rodas Solares, was also arrested. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 29-July 3

Guatemala High Court Revives Immunity-Stripping Process for President Pérez Molina

On July 1, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court lifted the injunction suspending the process to remove President Pérez Molina’s immunity, which means that the Congressional Committee may now move forward with its investigation of Pérez Molina over corruption allegations. The process could result in the president’s impeachment.

Protesters Call for the Resignation of Pérez Molina

Demonstrators took to the streets of Guatemala City again this weekend to demand that President Pérez Molina resign amid allegations of corruption. Although many expected a low turn-out due to the national holiday on Monday, 300 people participated in the protest and have expressed their frustration that they are not “seeing any results.”

The Human Rights Convergence — a coalition of Guatemalan human rights groups — released a statement calling for the protection of citizens involved in the protests and other social movements to root out government corruption.

“Tear Gas Used to Attack Guatemala Village: Official Corruption Ransacking Nation’s Treasury and Natural Resources”

Epoch Times published an article reporting on the illegal jade mining in the mountainside of El Arco, highlighting the role of Guatemala’s National Civil Police (PNC) in protecting the illegal operations. Residents have been organizing through a group called the Fundación Turcio Lima (FTL), created to “obtain clean water rights and to exercise civil rights by ordinary people by enabling them to gain official titles to their real property.”

Two Police Officers Arrested for the Murder of Journalists

Three individuals, two of whom are police officers, were arrested for the murder of two journalists on Friday. The officers, Jorge León Cabrera Solís and Artemio de Jesús Juárez Pichiyá, were believed to have murdered journalists Danilo López (a journalist for Prensa Libre) and Federico Salazar on March 10 as they were walking through a park in Mazatenango.

Damming Dissent: Community leaders behind bars in Guatemala after opposing hydro projects

This article by Sandra Cuffe looks at the pattern of criminalization of community leaders in Huehuetenango for their involvement in movements to oppose hydroelectric dams in the region.

“Are we witnessing a Central American Spring?”

This Foreign Policy article looks at the parallels in corruption scandals in Honduras and Guatemala as an indicator for a potential political spring in the region.

Guatemala News Update: June 22-26

Discovery of Suspected Congressional Corruption Network

Guatemala- AFP

Photo – AFP

Authorities opened an investigation on Thursday of a suspected network of ghost employees in Congress. Congressman Pedro Muadi has been linked to the alleged creation of 15 contracts of “ghost employees,” which are individuals recorded on a payroll system but who don’t actually work for that company or organization. It is believed that Congressman Muadi created these faulty contracts for security staff for a private company he owns. The CICIG requested the Supreme Court to carry out a pretrial investigation to remove Muadi’s immunity.

New York Times Op-Ed: “America’s Second Chance in Guatemala”

An Op-Ed by Anita Isaacs was featured in this week’s New York Times, in which Isaacs argues for more direct involvement by the US in Guatemala’s anti-corruption movement. Isaacs claims that the US has “turned its back” on hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans who have come together to demand the resignation of President Pérez Molina. She also argues that US officials, including Ambassador Todd Robinson, are manipulating the weakened political situation in Guatemala to pursue their own agenda. Isaacs expresses deep skepticism of Pérez Molina’s willingness to follow through on his commitments to carry out anti-corruption efforts. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 15-19

AFP Photo/Johan Ordonez

AFP Photo/Johan Ordonez

Guatemalan court brakes effort to strip president’s immunity

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has ruled to act on a petition from President Pérez Molina which questions the legitimacy of the congressional panel that is currently investigating allegations against the president and, subsequently, choosing whether or not to remove his immunity from prosecution.

Last Friday, a Congressional hearing was held to elect the five-member commission; those voted into the commission were Baudilio Hichos López, Hugo Fernando García Gudiel and Juan Armando Chuy Chanchavac of the LIDER Party, Independent Congressman Mario Santiago Linares, and Hugo Morán Tobar of the CREO Party.

President Pérez Molina had been ordered to appear before Congress this Thursday to be questioned about his role in the corruption scandal. Instead of appearing to testify, the president sent in a written defense in which he claims that the Supreme Court should not have passed along his case to Congress. The President referred to the decision to remove his immunity as a “purely political, or spurious, or illegitimate situation.”

Also on Thursday, the head of the congressional commission investigating the president, Baudilio Hichos López, resigned after the CICIG linked him to the country’s social security scandal. Congressman Baudilio Hichos may now be stripped of the same legal immunity granted to him as an elected official that he seeks to remove from President Pérez Molina. The head of the CICIG as well as a top prosecutor in Guatemala suspect that Hichos was involved in a questionable real estate rental contract involving the social security agency. Read more about Baudilio Hichos’s resignation here.

Mexico Deporting Migrants from Central America in Record Numbers

After initiating its Southern Border Plan, under pressure from the US, Mexico has increased border protection along its southern boundary. According to the National Immigration Institute, Mexico deported 79% more Central Americans from January to April than it did during the same time period in 2014. Following the influx of nearly 50,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America into the US during 2014, the United States has increased bilateral efforts with Mexico to reduce the migration of Central Americans through Mexico. Human rights groups, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have expressed concerns about Mexico’s heavy-handed approach to curtail the wave of migration. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 8-12

Guatemala’s Supreme Court Opens the Door for the Prosecution of Pérez Molina

The Supreme Court has approved for congress to decide whether to remove President Pérez Molina’s immunity from prosecution for possible involvement in the “La Linea” and IGSS corruption scandals. Should Perez Molina be put on trial, his possible prosecution would essentially result in his impeachment. 

The Upcoming 2015 Elections

In this Saturday, May 30, 2015 photo, protesters carry a fake coffin with a effigy of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina during a protest to demand his resignation in Guatemala City. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (The Associated Press)

In this Saturday, May 30, 2015 photo, protesters carry a fake coffin with a effigy of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina during a protest to demand his resignation in Guatemala City. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (The Associated Press)

A recent poll by Costa Rican firm Borge y Asociados indicates that while conservative candidate Manuel Baldizón is still the favorite to win the upcoming presidential election, comedian Jimmy Morales is gaining support. Morales is seen as an anti-establishment candidate with little ties to Guatemala City, which could benefit him with the recent public outcry over government corruption. Morales is running as a member of the right-wing party, Frente de Convergencia Nacional, which has ties to the military. However, many express their doubt in Morales’ ability to lead as president. He has also recently made controversial comments about the past internal conflict in the country, including his denial that genocide was committed against the Maya Ixil people. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 1-5

gabriela-smallSexual Violence as a War Crime in Guatemala: Mayan Women Struggle for Justice

GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones conducted an interview with Gabriela Rivera, a lawyer with Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM), about the organization’s approach to seeking justice for sexual violence prevalent during the internal conflict, with a focus on the Sepur Zarco sexual slavery case.

Guatemala’s Political Crisis Explained

GHRC explains the current political crisis, as well as what may come next for Guatemala on the Due Process of Law Foundation’s blog (in Spanish).

Lawyer who defended former Guatemala dictator in genocide trial murdered

On Wednesday, June 3, the Guatemalan defense lawyer for Efraín Ríos Montt, Francisco Palomo, was shot dead by two men in Guatemala City. Palomo had previously defended former President Alfonso Portillo for charges of money-laundering in the United States. Along with the increasingly serious health condition of Ríos Montt, the death of his defense lawyer is expected to cause further delay in his trial for genocide. Continue reading