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: Jan. 30-Feb. 5

Oscar Mejía Víctores, former head of state accused of genocide, dies under house arrest
Oscar Mejía Víctores died Monday morning at the age of 85. He was the head of State of Guatemala between 1983 and 1986, taking power through a coup d’état that ousted his predecessor Jose Efraín Ríos Montt. Under his leadership, the government forcibly disappeared over 600 people and killed thousand of indigenous. He had been under house arrest since 2011 for accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity during his tenure as the head of State.

Guatemala Supreme Court Rules Against Lifting Congressman’s Immunity
The Guatemalan Supreme Court has denied prosecutors’ request to lift the immunity of Congressman and presidential advisor Edgar Justino Ovalle, on the basis of insufficient evidence. As a public official, he has immunity from prosecution. He has been accused of human rights abuses during his tenure as a military officer during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict war.

First Week of Sepur Zarco Trial Underway
The trial against a military officer and a military commissioner began Feb. 1. The men are charged with crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual and domestic slavery, as well as forced disappearance of indigenous villagers during Guatemala’s internal conflict. International observers have been blogging daily about the trial at the International Justice Monitor and Breaking the Silence.

Nickel company announces new mining project in Baja Verapaz
The Canadian company CVMR Corporation and Central American Nickel Inc. have announced a partnership to mine 3 million tons of mineral ore each year in Santa Anita located in Baja Verapaz which is considered to be one of the largest, untapped reserves of Nickel in existence. From Guatemala, the ore will be shipped to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to be refined. The project is not far from Rio Negro and the 33 communities displaced and massacred during the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric dam project. Another nickel mine operating in the neighboring department of Izabal is responsible for acts of violence, including a murder and the gang rape of 11 women by security forces.

New Law for Missing Women Passed in Guatemala
A law was passed on January 29th that establishes the ability to immediately search for missing women. At least 4,500 women have been reported missing over the last two years, and according to Congresswoman Sandra Moran, law enforcement often does not respond immediately when a woman goes missing. This law, the result of the combined efforts of many women’s rights organization, hopes to curb the incidence of kidnapping women for forced labor or prostitution.

Growing concern over treatment of Central American refugees
On Feb. 4, 34 Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to express concern over the treatment and safety of deported Central American families in response to the recent raids.Many of these families may qualify for special accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, protections that were not taken into account during the raids. The Members of Congress call for a suspension of raids, more careful review and screening of cases, among other changes to DHS protocols.

Bill in support of Community Radio up for vote in Guatemalan Congress
The Community Media Bill 4087 aims to legalize community radio within Guatemala. Current telecommunications laws do not allow for the municipalities to create or have access to non-profit licenses for community radios. Without a public radio system, communities cannot easily distribute important news and educational programming information such as emergency disaster relief, voter registration, and public health campaigns broadcast in their native language. Originally introduced to the Congress in 2009, the bill had been stalled up to February 2 when the first reading of the bill took place. The vote on Bill 4087 could take place as soon as February 9th.

Guatemala News Update: June 16-20

Lawsuit filed against Tahoe Resources

A lawsuit is being filed against Tahoe Resources in relation to the violence that occurred during a 2013 peaceful protest at the Escobal silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores. The mine’s security guards are being accused by seven Guatemalans of attacking them and critically injuring Luis Fernando García Monroy after shooting him three times, once in the face. The lawsuit also accuses Tahoe’s Chief of Security in Guatemala, Alberto Rotondo, of various crimes, including ordering the attack on the peaceful protestors, fabricating a story that the demonstrators attacked mine employees, and arranging the tampering of evidence. 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

Guatemala News Update: June 2-6

Chixoy reparations to be handled by Executive branch

A six hour-long meeting between communities affected by the Chixoy Dam and government officials determined that the Executive Branch will be the only entity to handle the communities’ promised reparations. This decision was a victory for community members, as earlier in the week government officials had suggested the reparations be fulfilled via the Legislative Branch. Communities viewed this as a tactic to withhold the economic portion of the reparations plan. Although a formal plan has not yet been agreed upon, communities say that they are making progress and will move forward with the negotiation process.

The World Bank decided to postpone its vote on a requested $340 million loan to Guatemala; the discussion will likely take place within the next few weeks. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission was among the 34 NGOs that wrote to the World Bank requesting the delay. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: May 26-30

New mining equipment arrives at La Puya amid calls for dialogue

After the violent removal of protesters by police last Friday, May 23, new mining equipment has been brought into the site of the El Tambor mining project. On Saturday, protesters from the peaceful resistance of La Puya regrouped near their original position and a mass was held on Sunday to pray for those injured in the eviction. Photos of the eviction and march in solidarity with the movement can be found here.

Archbishop Óscar Vian deplored the absence of real dialogue regarding
mining and energy projects and called for the government to stop approving
projects before entering into the dialogue process with communities.

GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones was quoted in an article about the non-violent resistance at La Puya. Government officials have equated leaders of the resistance with criminals and terrorists, which Alford-Jones points out is reestablishing the “idea of the internal enemy” that was so present during the internal armed conflict.

Pending the investigation of their cases, a judge ordered the house arrest of four community leaders from La Puya who have been active in the peaceful resistance movement against the El Tambor mining project. The four community leaders, who have been accused of illegally detaining and threatening four mining workers from El Tambor in 2012, are scheduled to stand trial August 18th. The judge dismissed the case against a fifth leader of the peaceful resistance movement, Yolanda Oquelí, on the grounds of lack of evidence. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: March 31 – April 4

Say “No!” to U.S. funds for the Guatemalan Army

Upside Down World publicized the call from us at GHRC and our partners at NISGUA for the US government to maintain restrictions on funding to the Guatemalan Army, as Guatemala has not complied with conditions laid out in the 2014 US Appropriations Law.

Click here to sign our petition! Continue reading