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 prosecutor’s office 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

Guatemala News Update: December – January 20

Guatemalan Ex-police Official Sentenced in Spanish Embassy attack

The trial against former police official, Pedro Garcia Arredondo, came to a close on January 19th. Arredondo was found guilty of orchestrating the 1980 attack on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was sentenced to 50 additional years for the murder of two students after the massacre occurred.

During closing remarks, the prosecution described the fire as an act of state terrorism, while the defense continued to assert that the fire originated from within the embassy, and that the police force did what it “had to do.”

Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú, who was a complainant in the case, spoke on Democracy Now about the importance of the verdict. More information about the history of the case is available on our website, along with a short Q&A with GHRC’s Dania Rodríguez, who was present during the sentencing hearing.

Genocide Trial Resumes, Then Is Suspended Again

More than a year and a half after the 2013 genocide trial concluded, the retrial of Guatemala’s former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt began, only to be abruptly suspended. Both trials have been, from the beginning, filled with legal impediments which have obstructed and delayed them.

As the trial began on January 5th, 2015, Ríos Montt was wheeled into the Guatemala City courtroom on a stretcher — his health used by his defense team as tactic to delay the trial. Though this attempt failed, Montt’s team then questioned the impartiality of Judge Irma Jeannette Valdez Rodas, citing the fact that she had completed a master’s thesis on genocide. This second objection succeeded in delaying the trial, until a new tribunal can be formed.

Despite this interference, Judge Carol Patricia Flores ordered a new medical evaluation of Montt. The Guatemalan National Institute for Forensic Science (INACIF) delivered the medical results on January 14th, confirming that Montt suffers from osteomyelitis, a bone infection. It will be the judge who ultimately decides if Montt should appear in court; the possibility of videoconference communication has also been discussed. In the meantime, the trial is indefinitely suspended.

Civil society excluded from debate about continuation of the CICIG in Guatemala

Amid discussions about whether or not the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) should continue, President Pérez Molina has stated that the work of the CICIG should be analyzed only by government institutions with links to the justice sector. Even though Molina stated in early January that he would solicit input from organizations interested in participating in the analysis, he is now stating that the period of analysis has “reached it’s end.”

The US government has stated that it will continue to provide financial support for the CICIG, as long as political will exists in Guatemala for its continuation.

Poor Guatemalans Are Taking On North American Mining Companies—and Have the Bullet Wounds to Prove It

This in-depth article from The Nation touches on several land rights cases across Guatemala, focusing on the repression and violence that has been used against protesters who oppose extractive projects.

A related article discusses Canada’s mining dilemma, highlighting violations of environmental and indigenous rights committed by mining companies abroad.

Community Radio Station Raided in Sololá, Guatemala

On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, Stereo Juventud — a community radio with programming in the Kaqchikel language — was raided by the Guatemalan Public Ministry. Two police trucks with about 20 policemen, accompanied by 10 government representatives, arrived at the radio station, cut off its power and seized its equipment. Indigenous authorities joined the community in a march to the courthouse, demanding the return of the equipment.

Intensification of Mexico-Guatemala border security

The Mexican government, encouraged and backed by the Obama administration, has taken actions to stop migration from Central America after a significant flow of underage migrants reached the Mexico-U.S border. The frequent governments raids on the trains on which migrants travel have pushed underage migrants to travel on foot, where they can fall victim to gangs and exploitation, being used as cheap labor, or sexual exploitation.

Daughter of former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt might run for presidency in Guatemala

The “Partido Liberador Progresista” (PLP) has invited ex-congresswoman Zury Ríos, the daughter of Efraín Ríos Montt, to become the political party’s candidate for presidency in the upcoming 2015 presidential campaign. The party’s inclusion in the campaign depends on her acceptance, which has not been confirmed.

American woman accused of illegal trafficking of minors

Nancy Susan Bailey, founder of the Seeds of Love orphanage in Guatemala, was apprehended on December 17, 2014 in El Salvador, and turned over to Guatemalan authorities via Interpol. Bailey is accused of human trafficking; in Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity 2010 report, 3,342 irregular adoptions were noted, mostly to US couples.