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.

 

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Maya Nations call for the protection and defense of Mother Earth

Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico – Last week Maya Ancestral Authorities from diverse Maya nations of Mexico and Guatemala convened a three-day meeting titled, Ancestral Wisdom for the Defense of life, Mother Earth, and Her Natural Elements, from February 12 -14. The gathering is in response to the urgent threats in the region due to the hundreds of development projects causing environmental destruction and violating the rights of the Maya peoples and Mother Earth. This meeting comes just days before Pope Francis will arrive in Chiapas, Mexico. His visit will include meetings with indigenous peoples to hear their concerns regarding their human rights and protection of Mother Nature. In his Encyclical, the Pope called for indigenous peoples to be the “principle dialogue partners especially when large projects on their lands are proposed.”

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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

Reintegration and Repatriation for Guatemala’s Young Migrants

By Katherine Comly, GHRC Summer 2015 Intern

Photo: Reuters

On June 16, two graduate students from George Washington University hosted a panel discussion on their recent research involving youth repatriation in Guatemala. The event, hosted by the Wilson Center and moderated by Latin American Program Associate Director Eric Olson, discussed the students’ findings on resources and programs available to young children and teens returning to Guatemala after attempting to migrate north to Mexico or the United States. The issue of youth repatriation has become increasingly relevant after the rise in migration of unaccompanied minors last summer.

At the event, graduate student researchers Nathan Hesse and Warren Newton shared preliminary findings from their study on government and civil society engagement in the processes of repatriation, or the return to one’s place of origin or citizenship, and re-integration. They also presented their initial analysis of regional coordination of the Northern Triangle countries with Mexico and the US. Their research revealed that civil society groups, such as Colectivo Vivo Digna and Guatemala Child Return and Reintegration Project (GCRRP), are the chief organizers for repatriation programs, whereas the state provides minimal programs and services for returning youth.

The panel concluded with a series of recommendations for the advancement of repatriation programs for Guatemalan youth, which include:

• Cooperation between the Guatemalan government and civil society
• Community-led development
• Inclusion of funds for reintegration programs in development aid
• Political continuity and will
• Culturally and linguistically sensitive reintegration programs.

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Guatemala Faces Political Crisis in Wake of Tax Fraud Scandal

*This post will be updated regularly (updates at the bottom) as the crisis unfolds in Guatemala

Today, May 14, Alejandro Maldonado was named as Guatemala’s new vice president after Roxana Baldetti resigned on May 8 amid the revelation of a tax fraud scandal. Meanwhile, despite the vice president’s resignation, citizens have continued to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and will move forward with a wave of national protests set for Saturday, May 16.

What’s going on in Guatemala?

The uncovering of a corruption scandal has set off massive protests in Guatemala. Photo by Prensa Comunitaria.

The uncovering of a corruption scandal has set off massive protests in Guatemala. Photo by Prensa Comunitaria.

The uncovering of a massive tax fraud ring in Guatemala has prompted widespread public outrage, steeping the country in what many are calling a “political crisis” as September’s general elections draw near.

On April 16, authorities arrested 22 people – including the current and former heads of Guatemala’s tax collection agency – in the culmination of an 8-month long investigation into a criminal network used to defraud the state.

The crime ring was dismantled by a joint investigation by Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and the CICIG, and implicates officials in the highest levels of government. Although Vice President Roxana Baldetti was not directly linked to the fraud ring in the initial investigation, she was plunged into controversy when her private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, was identified as its leader. In the face of increasing public pressure, Baldetti submitted her resignation on May 8.

The criminal network has been called “La Linea,” (The Line), in reference to a certain cell phone number that businesses used to illegally negotiate the amount they were required to pay in customs taxes. Thanks to the network, businesses received a 25% “discount” on the fees when their property cleared customs; approximately 50% was paid to the state and the rest to the defrauders. Prosecutors estimate that Guatemala lost around Q940 million (US$120 million) in tax revenue to the scam, and the ongoing investigation has begun to reveal corruption that extends to the judicial branch. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: May 4-8: Vice President Baldetti Steps Down

Guatemala Vice President Steps Down Amid Customs Corruption Scandal

In the wake of increasing calls for Vice President Roxana Baldetti to step down, President Pérez Molina announced on May 8 that the vice president would resign. At a press conference, Pérez Molina called the move a “personal decision” which reflects Baldett’s willingness to comply with any required investigations into a tax fraud scandal allegedly headed by her personal secretary.

Earlier this week, Guatemala’s Supreme Court ruled that Congress could revoke Baldett’s immunity from prosecution and that adequate evidence exists to warrant a pre-trial investigation. A request was presented by congressmember Amílcar Pop for both Baldetti and President Pérez Molina, though the request to investigate Pérez Molina was denied.

Guatemala’s business association, known by its Spanish acronym CACIF, also called publicly for Baldetti’s resignation on Wednesday, threatening to consider a national strike if Baldetti did not step down.

The scandal that prompted calls for Baldett’s resignation has been deemed “La Linea,” or “The Line,” in reference to a cell phone number that businesses could call to negotiate an illegal “discount” on the required customs taxes. According to a joint investigation by the CICIG and Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, La Linea has resulted in the loss of 800-900 million quetzales ($106-$116 million).

19 Police Officers Captured for Extrajudicial Execution

19 members of the Guatemalan National Civil Police who are implicated in a case of the extrajudicial killing of 3 people have been detained. In early August of last year, 1,600 police were mobilized in response to protests in Alta Verapaz over an agreement signed between the mining company Hidro Santa Rita and President Otto Pérez Molina. The conflict resulted in dozens of arrests and injuries, as well as the deaths of the three people cited in the case.

US Congress Voices Concerns Over Central America Aid Plan

Members of Congress, who are expected to vote this summer on Obama’s proposed $1 billion aid package to Central America, voiced concerns about the plan at a hearing last Thursday.

The main issues raised were “whether the leaders of the three countries have demonstrated enough commitment to curb corruption and address unemployment; whether the plan hits the right balance of addressing security, prosperity and governance; and whether it sufficiently addresses concerns raised about past development programs for the region.”

GHRC and other civil society organizations have also expressed urgent concerns about the proposed development plan for Central America.

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.