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

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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

Guatemala News Update: January 16-22

Joe Biden’s Visit to Guatemala

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with newly inaugurated Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales during his visit to Central America last week. He congratulated Morales and praised his commitment to fight corruption.

Guatemala tries 11 ex-soldiers over wartime massacres

Guatemalan judge Claudette Dominguez opened a trial on Monday, January 18th of 11 retired soldiers accused of participating in massacres of Indigenous citizens during the country’s 36 year civil war.

This case was described by the district attorney’s office as one of the largest forced disappearance cases in America Latina. Evidence that led to the its opening case includes a report from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, which reported finding 558 bones and human remains in 83 mass graves on Military Zone 21 (CREOMPAZ) in the Alta Verapaz region, where the detainees were active members between 1978 and 1998. 90 of these remains corresponds to minors, 443 to adults, and three to the elderly, with 22 unknown. So far 97 of the victims have been identified through DNA. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: December 7-11

Celebrating International Human Rights Day

Dania-PDH-evento

GHRC’s Dania Rodríguez was recognized by Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman at a Dec. 10 event to honor human rights groups working in the country.

Guatemalans participated in a host of actions to commemorate International Human Rights Day, celebrated on December 10.

Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Jorge de León Duque, stated in an event he hosted in Guatemala City that this year was marked by a “failure to fulfill fundamental rights,” citing the country’s collapsing health care and education systems. The Ombudsman also gave a special “declaration of protection” to several groups, including to GHRC, for their crucial work promoting human rights.

The Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala also presented its annual award, the Orden Juan José Gerardi, to a group of Ixil women who testified as part of the genocide trial against Efraín Ríos Montt. The award also recognized political prisoners Bernarbé Sagastume, Antonio Velásquez and Saúl Méndez for their work defending their communities’ land and environmental rights.

Many groups issued a statement in honor of Human Rights Day; our partner UDEFEGUA expressed the group’s solidarity with Guatemala’s diverse human rights struggles and movements.

Urgent Action: Denounce Repeated Threats Against Land Rights Defenders

Our partner Amnesty International Canada is circulating an urgent action campaign to denounce threats against Rafael Maldonado of the Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action (CALAS). Last week, Maldonado received a series of death threats via social media — the latest in a continuing pattern of intimidation toward him since 2013. Maldonado serves as the Legal Director for CALAS, an organization that advocates for the collective rights of indigenous peoples in relation to environmental issues. Recently, CALAS has been involved in cases related to mining and African palm production in Guatemala.

Click here to participate in the campaign by writing a letter to Guatemala’s President and Attorney General.

Guatemala court denies appeal of ex-dictator’s genocide trial

This week, Guatemala’s top court refused an injunction requested by the defense team for Efraín Ríos Montt to call off the criminal process against him for genocide and war crimes. The Constitutional Court has confirmed that although Montt was diagnosed in August with “incurable dementia,” a special, closed-door trial will move forward in January 2016. Because Montt has been declared unfit to appear in court, his legal team will represent him during the trial.

Guatemala News Update: November 16-27

Sepur Zarco Trial to Start in February

The Sepur Zarco trial — Guatemala’s first criminal trial that pertains to sexual violence from the internal armed conflict — is set to open on February 1, 2016. The case deals with the abuses of women forced to serve as domestic and sexual slaves at the Sepur Zarco military outpost in the 1980s. The case also marks the first time anywhere that a domestic court has taken on a case related to sexual slavery.

Guatemalan Migrants in US Present Demands to Guatemalan Government

Conguate, a coalition of Guatemalan citizens living in the United States, gathered in Guatemala City on November 18 to lobby the Guatemalan government for a specific political agenda concerning migration.

In Guatemala, People Living Off Forests Are Tasked With Protecting Them

This article investigates a conservation strategy in Uaxactún, Guatemala in which communities already living in the region have been given control over protecting local forests from threats such as cattle ranchers, illegal loggers and drug traffickers. The community-based approach has helped conserve the most threatened tree species in the jungle,the native bigleaf mahogany and Spanish cedar. Continue reading