Guatemala News Update: April 3-23

Justice

Update: Rios Montt Genocide 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.

Guatemalan Congressman tied to war crimes

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.

Suspension of Molina Theissen Case

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

March for Water

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.

Dam threatens to displace communities in Mexico and Guatemala

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.

Guatemala called on to suspend the granting of mining licenses

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.

14 accused of forcing farmers to sell their land

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.

1 killed in tunnel collapse at Marlin mine

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 Rights

UN Meets with Jimmy Morales over Indigenous Issues

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.

Protests continue in Guatemala over lack of changes

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.”

Corruption

President Jimmy Morales requests extension of CICIG

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.

Ex-President Otto Perez Molina accepted bribes from Spanish Company

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.

 

Guatemala News Update: March 26-April 1

Genocide Case: Expert Forensic Anthropologist confirms horrors committed

On the 4th day of the closed-door debates against Jose Efraín Ríos Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez,  they listened to the testimonies of  forensic anthropologists who carried out the exhumations in the Ixil area and confirmed the horrible crimes the army committed there against the unarmed civilian population.

Ríos Montt is represented by a third party in the closed-door special proceedings; the Court does not have the power to impose a prison sentence due to Rios Montt’s physical health.

In a recent public statement, GHRC and partner organizations expressed concern about the case and called for the trial against Rodríguez Sánchez to be public.

Judge Gálvez declassifies 8 military plans from the armed conflict

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez declassified eight plans from the military campaign which were used as strategies during the internal armed conflict between 1983 and 1990. These can now be used in in-progress investigations related to the Military Diary and cases of extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, and massacres.  Copies of these documents have been given to plaintiff groups including, FAMDEGUA and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation.

CERIGUA: Poverty is worsening in the country

Currently 79.2% of the population in Guatemala is living in poverty, while 46.6% are below the extreme poverty line. This situation principally affects indigenous and rural communities, and, according to CERIGUA, the State has not adequately addressed this issue and in fact there has even been regression on progress on these issues since the start of Morales’ presidency.

Ex-President Otto Pérez Molina’s Hearing Suspended

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez has suspended the scheduled hearing of the former president due to an appeal from the Attorney General’s Office, and it was not clear when the trial would resume. Both the former president and former vice-president, Roxana Baldetti resigned last year after a corruption scandal involving both came to light. Former Vice-President Baldetti arrived late to the proceedings due to health problems according to her lawyers, and the judge ordered she undergo medical examinations.

Following the March 28th court appearance, former President Pérez Molina was quoted as stating “I am innocent, and everyone must respect that.” He has also blamed the U.S. Embassy for interfering in the internal affairs of Guatemala through the CICIG.

Guatemala News Update: March 1-25

Assassinations of Human Rights Defenders

Environmental Activist Killed
A prominent environmental activist, Walter Méndez Barrios, was shot and killed March 16th in Guatemala. He had fought against deforestation and hydroelectric projects within Central America, was part of the Petenero Front against Dams – an organization opposing hydroelectric projects in the Usumacinta River- and led the Association of Forest Communities in Petén. His association released a statement saying that Méndez had been receiving death threats for his work.

The assassination came not long after two environmental activists were killed in Honduras – including world-renowned activist Berta Cáceres – leading to increased criticism of US and Central American plans to build more hydroelectric dams without consultation and to the detriment of local communities.

Radio Station Director Killed
On March 17th, Mario Roberto Salazar Barahona, the director of EstéreoAzúcar in the department of Jutiapa was killed. According to CERIGUA, Salazar had been inside his car after returning from meetings at another radio station when he was shot. Police believe hit men had been following him, yet the motive for the murder is still unknown. Salazar had worked in the field of journalism for over a decade. UNESCO and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have both condemned the attack. They stated, “we reaffirm the absolute need to develop a comprehensive public policy for protection of defenders of human rights, including journalists to enable them to carry out their work in an environment where their security and integrity are guaranteed.”

Transitional Justice Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: Feb. 22-26

President Jimmy Morales goes to Washington

The Northern Triangle presidents, including Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales, met with Joe Biden this week to discuss the Alliance for Prosperity aid and security package for the region. During the meeting, Biden stated that the United States’ goal in funding the Alliance for Prosperity was to promote regional security as well as development in the three countries. However, critics have argued that the package will actually result in higher levels of poverty and inequality due to the neoliberal economic policies that it promotes.

Central American Caucus Launched

The House of Representatives announced the creation of a Central America caucus to focus on US policy towards the region on Wednesday, February 24.  According to Chairwoman Rep Torres (D- Calif.), the Caucus aims to address problems in the region that have been overlooked in US foreign policy, which, she says, has been focused on “other parts of the world at the expense of the countries just beyond our borders.”

Sepur Zarco: Nobel Laureates attended hearings

RigobertaMenchú and Jody Williams, both Nobel Peace Laureates, as well as members of the Nobel Women’s Initiative attended the High Risk Tribunal for the SepurZarco case as observers. Both laureates have been following the topics of transitional justice and will present their conclusions about the judicial process in a press conference. Next Wednesday Dr. Williams will host the press conference and give details of the situation that she observed in the trial of the Sepur Zarco case and the situation of violence that Guatemalan women confront.

The Case closes today, and sentencing will occur at 5pm EST. Live streaming available at http://www.alianzarompiendoelsilencio.com/

IACHR brings case to Inter-American Court

On February 22 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application to the Inter-American  Court of Human Rights concerning violations committed in relation to international adoptions in Guatemala. The two brothers in this case were taken from their home as young children in 1998, after allegedly being abandoned by their families. The IACHR has determined that the Government carried out no investigation to confirm the children had been abandoned before the children were placed into adoption.

Bringing up the Bodies in Guatemala

This week, Al Jazeera reported on the work of the Forensics Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) in the city of Coban. About a thousand people vanished from this area between 1979 and 1983. The FAFG has been exhumed thousand of victims of the conflict since it’s founding in 1993. This work has provided evidence for trials in the many cases of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

 

Guatemala News Update: Feb. 15-19

Analysts Critique President Jimmy Morales´ First Month in Office

A series of scandals and non-transparent actions have generated strong critique of the new Morales administration. Martin Pellecer, writing for Nomada, describes four areas in which Morales has been an obstacle to fighting impunity, including his poor management of donations of medical supplies and cozy relationship with a major Guatemalan palm oil company. Iduvina Hernández, in Plaza Pública, adds concerns about Morales´ cabinet and advisers.

The new administration takes office as the US ramps up it’s new Central America Strategy under the Alliance for Pro. Acisclo Valladares Urreula, Guatemalan Presidential Commissioner for Competitiveness and Investment, stated that the funds for Alliance for Prosperity wouldn´t be arriving until October of this year. He says he plans to visit 51 communities to get their input. Valladares also mentioned the donation of US $28 million from the Millennium Challenge Corporation to improve education and increased tax efficiency.

“Racism and Sexual Violence has served to suppress the indigenous populations”

This week in the Sepur Zarco trial, survivors and expert witnesses take the stand. “In 1982 the arrival of the soldiers began and they were grabbing people to bring them to the outpost and many were never seen again. The soldiers came from Puerto Barrios,” said Agustín Chen, one of the survivors from a community close to the military base Sepur Zarco. He told of how they brought him to a cell and beat him every day. “They killed seven people, throwing two grenades into the pit where they had put them.” The anthropologist Irma Alicia Veláquez Nimatuj stated that “The military outposts were installed in the region to give security to the landowners’ farms and to take possession of the lands.” For the women in the communities, “racism and sexual violence had come hand in hand in the subduing and controlling of indigenous populations.” she explained.

Minister for the Environment has “No information” on River Diversion

The Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) recently admitted having no knowledge or control over private companies´s diversion of public tributaries of the rivers Madre Vieja and Achiguate in Escuintla. Ernesto Moscoso, Director of Watersheds and MARN’s Strategic Programs for the Department of Hydraulic Resources, stated in response to being questioned: “We do not have information regarding the diverted rivers, because there is no monitoring at this moment.” Dialogue has initiated between government offices and the companies, Hame Agroindustries and the sugar refineries Madre Tierra, El Pilar, Magdalena, Palo Blanco, Santa Ana, San Diego, Pantaleón and Bananera. Community members have noted that water no longer reaches communities downriver and with it, the fish and wildlife are disappearing.

Military Veterans Protest in front of U.S. Embassy

A “protest of ex-soldiers” blocked transit at midday on Feb. 18 on the front sidewalk of the U.S. Embassy in Zone 10 of Guatemala City. The dissidents detained vehicles for a few moments and then afterwards left. They also protested in front of the Supreme Court, where the Sepur Zarco trial is being held. The group had printed banners with a photo of the US Ambassador´s recent meeting with the Human Rights Law Firm, with the statement “the friends of our enemies are our enemies.”

Rural Development Law Encounters More Obstacles

The Congressional Committee on Agriculture is set to analyze Bill 4084, the rural development law, a proposal that has been on the table for years. The spirit of the law is to benefit impoverished and excluded communities, but the Minister for Agriculture says the law would conflict with international treaties.

Police Clash with Dozens Protesting Water Fee Hike in Guatemala, 20 Injured

Protesters demonstrating against a rise in water and garbage collection costs blocked off major highway between Guatemala City and Villa Nueva. The police used tear gas and petrol bombs to break up the protest after dialogue failed. Several civilians were also injured in violent confrontations with the police officers.

 

Guatemala News Update: Feb. 6-12

Public Prosecutor’s Office presents skeletons as evidence at the Sepur Zarco hearings

In the seventh day of hearings by the judges of the Sepur Zarco case, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented as evidence boxes with the skeletons of 48 people. One expert, Juan Carlos Gatíca, explained where the bones had been exhumed and the analysis that had been done to identify them. Another expert, Óscar Ariel Ixpatá, described the types of wounds found on the exhumed bones, explaining that what they found indicated that the victims had bullet wounds and had been beaten. Furthermore, the victims had been blindfolded, bound, and gagged.

Campesinos March for Political Change in Guatemala

Thousands of Guatemalan rural workers protested in the streets of Guatemala City on Wednesday, blocking traffic to pressure President Jimmy Morales into passing political and economic reforms. The campesino organizations listed a variety of demands, including the respect of the constitutional rights of Guatemalan cities, wage levels, environmental protections, and national sovereignty.  Concerning environmental issues, protesters want an end to projects that displace communities and exploit natural resources. They also criticized agreements with transnational organizations, arguing instead for nationalized energy resources to benefit Guatemalans.

The protesters also demanded justice for those who intimidated community leaders, and the freedom of human rights defenders who had been jailed and criminalized. Furthermore, they called for resolution of 135 land conflicts, and housing guarantees.

Minister of Energy and Mining denied new moratorium on mining and will accelerate process to grant licensing

The Minister of Energy and Mines will not maintain a moratorium on new mining licenses and instead seeks to speed up the process of granting requests for licenses. The past two administrations had abstained from granting new licenses. The new officials argue that these projects can help to reduce the high levels of poverty within the country if attention is paid to social and environmental issues, explained the Vice-minister of Sustainable Development, Roberto Velasquez. In contrast, communities who live next to resource extraction projects such as mines, as well as hydroelectric dam projects have almost unanimously opposed them as environmentally harmful, socially destructive, and as driving factors of increased violence and repression in their communities. Continue reading