Guatemala News Update: April 20 – May 1

CICIG Mandate to be Extended

On Thursday, April 27, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina announced his decision to extend the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) for two more years. The UN commission, which began its work in 2007, is charged with helping state institutions investigate and tackle corruption and organized crime in Guatemala.

The extension of the CICIG had been under debate for months, and the final decision was made in the midst of a recent political crisis related to a CICIG investigation into a tax fraud ring involving at least 20 top government officials. The commission’s extension has been applauded by several Guatemalan groups as well as actors in the international community, including the US government.

Read more about the decision on the GHRC blog.

Thousands in Guatemala Demand Resignation of Top Officials

In the wake of a tax corruption scandal, thousands of Guatemalans marched to demand the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. President Pérez Molina told reporters that he has supported the fraud investigation and does not intend to resign.

One of the officials implicated in the scandal is Juan Carlos Monzón, the personal secretary for Vice President Baldetti. As the case made headlines in Guatemala, Baldetti and Monzón were traveling in South Korea to attend a “private academic activity.” Baldetti reportedly received news of her secretary’s involvement in the crime while in South Korea, after which she fired him and “exhorted” him to return to Guatemala. Continue reading

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Guatemala News Update: March 16-27

Criminalization of Land Rights Leaders Persists in Huehuetenango

On March 24, two indigenous and land rights leaders from Santa Eulalia — Rigoberto Juárez Mateo and Domingo Baltazar — were detained in Guatemala City. The arrests were related to a community struggle to defend a local radio station which had reported on planned hydroelectric projects as well as corruption of local authorities, and was shut down by municipal authorities in January.

In a separate case, GHRC staff member Dania Rodríguez attended a hearing on March 26 for six leaders from Barillas who have been opposing another hydroelectric dam project in the area — the Hidro Santa Cruz dam. Although the company has retracted many of the original accusations, the leaders remain charged with the crime of kidnapping. The case is set to conclude on April 8.

These events are part of a larger pattern of repression and increasing criminalization of activists by the Pérez Molina administration in order to support large-scale development projects. In this context, two activists have been killed, and GHRC is calling on Guatemala’s Attorney General to initiate an investigation into the deaths. Sign the petition now.

Hearings on Guatemala During IACHR 154th Session

Last week, during the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) 154th session, a hearing was held on the impacts of extractive industries in Latin America. During the hearing, members of the Catholic Church presented emblematic cases of human rights violations resulting from extractive projects in the region. More information on the hearing is available here.

Petitioners from the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and the Myrna Mack Foundation also addressed the IACHR regarding judicial independence in Guatemala. Continue reading

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.

GHRC Condemns the Assassination of Two Journalists in Mazatenango, Guatemala

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission condemns the March 10, 2015 assassination of journalists Danilo Lopez and Federico Salazar. This attack also left journalist Marvin Túnchez severely injured. GHRC calls on the Guatemalan government to thoroughly investigate this attack and to bring those responsible to justice. We also call on the Guatemalan government to effectively implement a protection program for journalists.

Guatemala has a long history of being known as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. At least 342 journalists were killed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996). The Committee to Protect Journalist stated today that “Guatemala has a troubling pattern of impunity in attacks against journalists. If authorities allow these crimes to remain unsolved, all local journalists will face even more danger.”

The killings were also denounced by the IACHR and the RFK Center, and below you can find the translated statement from human rights group UDEFEGUA:


We Repudiate the Assassinations of Journalist in Mazatenango

Today, March 10, 2015, in an attempt to assassinate three journalists, two were killed and one was seriously injured. The two journalists who were killed were Danilo Zapón López and Federico Salazar, and the injured journalist was Marvin Israel Túnchez. This vile attack is part of a much wider generalized violence against journalists, social commentators, and editors in the country, which has reduced the freedom of expression not only for journalists, but also the general society. Continue reading