Guatemala News Update: October 19-23

IACHR Holds 156 Period of Sessions

From October 17-23, human rights defenders and activists participated in hearings with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, DC. The Guatemala-focused hearings included the topics of transitional justice, criminalization of human rights defenders and justice operators, and the damaging impacts of monoculture African Palm plantations. Photos and videos from each hearing are available here.

First Disbursement of Funds as Part of Chixoy Dam Reparations Plan

The Guatemalan government made its first disbursement of Q22 million to family members in Baja Verapaz, as part of the reparations plan for the 33 communities affected by the construction of the hydroelectric Chixoy Dam. This marks the first action toward the implementation of the plan, which was finally signed by community representatives and former President Pérez Molina in November 2014. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: September 7-11

JimmyMorales

Jimmy Morales

Guatemala Comedian Wins First Round of Presidential Vote

Just days after former President Otto Pérez Molina resigned and was subsequently sent to prison, Guatemalans took to the polls on September 6 to elect a new leader. FCN candidate Jimmy Morales — a comedian with no political experience, but who has marketed himself as a “new option” — led the presidential race, winning almost 24% of the vote. Initial counts have revealed an extremely close race between the two second-place finishers, Manuel Baldizón (LIDER) and Sandra Torres (UNE). Although the final numbers are not yet known, Torres seems to hold a slight lead, and will likely face Morales in a runoff election set for October 25.

The overall mood remained peaceful and calm on election day, although several complaints were reported, including vote buying, interference from political parties, and ballot burning in some municipalities.

Analysts warn that whoever assumes the presidency will face a multitude of challenges, including a looming financial crisis and a citizenry that is no longer afraid to demand reform.

Read more about the elections on GHRC’s blog.

Guatemalan ex-President Pérez Molina indicted for corruption, sent to jail pending investigation

This week, former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was indicted and will face charges of criminal conspiracy, fraud and accepting bribes. Prosecutors will have three months to continue the investigation, during which time Pérez Molina will be held in preventative prison — an order that Pérez Molina’s lawyers have since appealed. On Wednesday, a court also froze some $700,000 in Pérez Molina’s bank accounts.

The former president maintains that he is innocent, and has accused the US of meddling in Guatemalan politics, endorsing the CICIG, and of orchestrating a “soft coup” against him. Continue reading

Growing Concerns Over Extractive Industries in Latin America

GHRC presented members of La Puya with a book of messages of solidarity at the movement's third anniversary

GHRC presented members of La Puya with a book of messages of solidarity at the movement’s third anniversary event.

“This is one of the most important human rights issues of our time,” stated Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) President Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, referring to the wide-ranging effects of extractive industries on communities in Latin America. Last week, the IACHR held a hearing on this topic as part of its 154th session.

During the hearing, members of the Catholic Church presented emblematic cases of human rights violations resulting from extractive projects in the region. They also detailed the criminalization of land rights defenders, and raised concerns about the serious damage being done to the environment as well as to indigenous communities.

“We can live without gold, but not without water,” said Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini, a bishop of the Catholic Church in Guatemala and a petitioner at the hearing. Bishop Ramazzini also noted the importance of prior consultation and called for other sustainable models of development that will not undercut the local economy. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: November 10-14

Law Ratified to Implement Chixoy Dam Reparations Plan

On November 8, Guatemala’s president, Otto Perez Molina, apologized on behalf of the Guatemalan government for the human rights violations that 33 indigenous Maya Achi communities suffered because of the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. Many were forced to relocate against their will, losing their land and livelihoods and 444 men, women and children from affected communities were massacred.

President Perez Molina signed into law Decree #378-2014, an agreement to provide $153.8 million in reparations to those affected by the Chixoy Dam. Starting in 2015, the money will be distributed among the 33 communities over the next fifteen years. In addition, some of the money will go toward community development projects in the Chixoy Dam affected area.

Third Day of Campesino Protests in Guatemala

On Thursday, November 13, for the third day in a row, campesino organizations blocked highways and roads in the north, west, and east of the country to call on the Guatemalan Congress to repeal certain laws that affect them negatively and approve others that would support farmers.

A related article describes protests outside of the Congress by a group demanding to be heard about its request for a rural development law.

On November 14, Daniel Pascual, leader of the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC), denounced the death of Vásquez Cruz, a resident who was involved in the protests. Cruz died from injuries received when security forces attempted to end the road blockade in Sanarate, El Progreso.

Miriam Pixtún Visits Midwest as Part of GHRC Fall Speaker’s Tour

As part of GHRC’s Fall Speaker’s Tour, Miriam Pixtún visited the Midwest to discuss the roots and goals of the “La Puya” nonviolent resistance movement and to describe the Guatemalan government’s overwhelming lack of respect for indigenous rights. As an active member of the movement, Miriam shared her experiences at La Puya, and also spoke about government corruption, racism sexism in Guatemalan society. She also met with indigenous groups to compare experiences with environmental resistance movements in the US and Guatemala. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: November 3-7

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Admonishes Guatemalan Government

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded its session of hearings with, among other things, a strongly worded admonishment of the Guatemalan government. The Commission stated it was “deeply concerned about the authorities’ denial of genocide and the position the State delegation took in the hearings, in which it defended the application of amnesty to grave human rights violations.” The statement also expressed concern about Guatemala’s lack of recognition of judgments from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, saying it constituted “an act of defiance.”

Over 18 cases from Guatemala have been brought through the Commission to the Court, for the State violation of protections enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights. A recent resolution by the Court found Guatemala to be in contempt of court for lack of compliance with 11 sentences relating to human rights violations during the internal armed conflict.

Agreement Published to Give Reparations to Families of Chixoy Dam Case

On November 6, 2014, the Journal of Central America published the agreement to give reparations to families affected by the Chixoy hydroelectric dam built in the 1980s. 1,200 million Quetzals will be provided to different municipalities in Quiché, Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz by 2029. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: October 13-17

Process for the Election of Judges in Guatemala in Question

At least 80 actions have been filed with the Constitutional Court related to the process of selecting the magistrates for Guatemala’s Supreme Court and appeals courts.

The United Nations, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and several national and international organizations have requested that the Constitutional Court (CC) order a repeat of the process from the very beginning, alleging that there were various violations of the law which governs the process. The CC also ordered that until it is able to rule on the actions, the appointment of the new magistrates is suspended, and the existing magistrates will remain in their positions.

In addition, one judge who was appointed to a court of appeals, Claudia Escobar, resigned in protest claiming that she had been pressured by a member of Congress, Gudy Rivera, to rule in favor of Vice President Roxana Baldetti and the ruling Patriot Party in exchange for the appointment to the court. In response, the CICIG requested the Rivera’s immunity from prosecution be removed.

In a separate process, two lawyers have been charged with abuse of power with the Third Appeals Court Judge, Erick Gustavo Santiago de Leon. The Public Prosecutors Office alleges that the attorneys offered Santiago de Leon Q16 million to reduce a fine for a company from Q93 million to Q3 million. Meanwhile, the magistrate was reelected to the appeals court. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 18-22

House burning in 9 de Febrero. (Photo: Konga)

House burning in 9 de Febrero. (Photo: Konga)

Hundreds evicted and three killed in conflicts over hydroelectric dam

An agreement signed between the mining company Hidro Santa Rita and President Otto Pérez Molina on July 30 resulted in a violent eviction in Monte Olivo, Cobán, Alta Verapaz. 1,600 police were mobilized in response to the subsequent protests resulting in dozens of arrests and injuries, as well as the deaths of three campesinos in Semococh. Several indigenous organizations reported that police officers instigated the conflict that led to the extrajudicial killing of the three men. There was reportedly no consultation with the communities that would be affected by the project’s installation prior to the agreement’s signing.

Chixoy Dam protesters demand reparations or return of land

Around 350 people from the community La Campana in Chicamán, Quiché blocked the main entrance to the Chixoy Dam, demanding economic reparations or the return of their land from the dam’s operators, the National Electrification Institute (INDE). With the help of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and other mediators, the protesters agreed to dialogue with INDE and have left the site of the dam.

Continue reading

Victories for Communities Affected by the Chixoy Dam

On Wednesday, May 28, over 1,000 men and women from the communities of Rio Negro left their homes. Traveling on dirt roads, over rocky mountain passes, and up a rain-swollen river they gathered at the resettlement village of Pacux. At 2 am the following morning, they boarded dozens of buses bound for Guatemala City. Six hours later, drawing on strength born of righteous indignation, they began their protest in front of the office of President Otto Perez Molina. They vowed to sleep in the streets, if necessary, until the President heard their message.

The signs carried by protesters and the slogans they shouted made clear their single demand: full implementation of a reparations plan — promised by the Guatemalan government — for damages they suffered over 30 years earlier due to the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. Stand with the communities by taking action now. Continue reading