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

President Pérez Molina Will Extend Mandate of CICIG in Guatemala

GHRC applauds today’s decision by President Otto Pérez Molina to extend the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The CICIG is a UN-backed entity tasked with helping state institutions investigate and disband organized criminal structures, and has played an absolutely vital role in fighting corruption, strengthening institutional capacity, and promoting rule of law in Guatemala.

The CICIG’s mandate was set to expire in September 2015, and its extension has been under debate for the past several months. As President Pérez Molina suggested that he would not extend the mandate, Guatemalan and international organizations launched a campaign to support the CICIG and advocate for its continuation.

As part of this discussion, GHRC was asked to contribute to a featured Q&A in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor on the role CICIG has played in Guatemala, and whether or not its mandate should be extended.

KAJ-InterAmericanDialogue-sm GHRC welcomes the extension of the mandate and looks forward to the continuation of the CICIG’s important work.

Guatemala News Update: April 13-17

Families Displaced from Polochic Valley Denounce Poor Living Conditions

At a press conference on Friday, April 17, representatives of 14 communities comprising approximately 629 families evicted in 2011 from the Polochic Valley denounced their current living conditions, which have led to issues such as malnutrition and starvation. The Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) also stated that it will deliver a preliminary Red Cross report to President Pérez Molina on the critical health situation of the families.

Community members are calling on the Guatemalan government to 1) promptly attend to the malnourished children; 2) hold a high-level meeting with community members to discuss the situation, and; 3) fulfill its obligation to grant land to all evicted families.

Top Guatemalan Officials Arrested in Crime Ring Takedown

In a joint effort by the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s office and the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), 20 officials were arrested on Thursday, April 16, including the current and former heads of Guatemala’s tax collection agency. The officials are being accused of being part of a tax fraud and contraband ring.

A warrant was also issued for Juan Carlos Monzón, the secretary for Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who is accused of being one of the operation’s ringleaders and is currently out of the country.

The arrests come amidst an important debate about whether or not the CICIG’s mandate, which is set to expire in September 2015, will be renewed. Although a diverse group of Guatemalan and international organizations have advocated for its continuation, President Pérez Molina has suggested that he will not extend the Commission’s mandate. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 2-6

US Continues Restrictions on Guatemalan Military Aid 

This article discusses continued US pressure on the Guatemalan government to reduce the role of the military across the country, even as Otto Pérez Molina’s administration has overseen the expansion of the military into law enforcement and recently passed a new executive order supporting nine reserve military squadrons to assist with “citizen security” and help “combat organized crime.”

The military is also being used to protect the interests of foreign and multinational corporations working in Guatemala, and to threaten and intimidate land rights activists. Although conditions on US funding remain in place, the US continues to provide support and training to the Guatemalan army in order to combat drug trafficking.

GHRC, quoted in the article, has raised concerns about the increased militarization of daily life in Guatemala, noting that it is also a violation of the peace accords.

US Ambassador to Guatemala Advocates for Extension of the CICIG

US Ambassador Todd Robinson has expressed support for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), stating that he will seek out support from the international community for its continuation.

Although Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina recently announced that he would not request an extension for the CICIG, several Guatemalan and international civil society groups have called for its continuation. A survey by the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce also found that 70% of those interviewed are in favor of extending the mandate of the CICIG for another two years.

This week, heads of the institutions that make up the justice sector also held a closed-door meeting to discuss the permanence of the CICIG; a decision about the extension will be made within the next two months. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: December – January 20

Guatemalan Ex-police Official Sentenced in Spanish Embassy attack

The trial against former police official, Pedro Garcia Arredondo, came to a close on January 19th. Arredondo was found guilty of orchestrating the 1980 attack on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was sentenced to 50 additional years for the murder of two students after the massacre occurred.

During closing remarks, the prosecution described the fire as an act of state terrorism, while the defense continued to assert that the fire originated from within the embassy, and that the police force did what it “had to do.”

Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú, who was a complainant in the case, spoke on Democracy Now about the importance of the verdict. More information about the history of the case is available on our website, along with a short Q&A with GHRC’s Dania Rodríguez, who was present during the sentencing hearing.

Genocide Trial Resumes, Then Is Suspended Again

More than a year and a half after the 2013 genocide trial concluded, the retrial of Guatemala’s former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt began, only to be abruptly suspended. Both trials have been, from the beginning, filled with legal impediments which have obstructed and delayed them.

As the trial began on January 5th, 2015, Ríos Montt was wheeled into the Guatemala City courtroom on a stretcher — his health used by his defense team as tactic to delay the trial. Though this attempt failed, Montt’s team then questioned the impartiality of Judge Irma Jeannette Valdez Rodas, citing the fact that she had completed a master’s thesis on genocide. This second objection succeeded in delaying the trial, until a new tribunal can be formed.

Despite this interference, Judge Carol Patricia Flores ordered a new medical evaluation of Montt. The Guatemalan National Institute for Forensic Science (INACIF) delivered the medical results on January 14th, confirming that Montt suffers from osteomyelitis, a bone infection. It will be the judge who ultimately decides if Montt should appear in court; the possibility of videoconference communication has also been discussed. In the meantime, the trial is indefinitely suspended.

Civil society excluded from debate about continuation of the CICIG in Guatemala

Amid discussions about whether or not the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) should continue, President Pérez Molina has stated that the work of the CICIG should be analyzed only by government institutions with links to the justice sector. Even though Molina stated in early January that he would solicit input from organizations interested in participating in the analysis, he is now stating that the period of analysis has “reached it’s end.”

The US government has stated that it will continue to provide financial support for the CICIG, as long as political will exists in Guatemala for its continuation.

Poor Guatemalans Are Taking On North American Mining Companies—and Have the Bullet Wounds to Prove It

This in-depth article from The Nation touches on several land rights cases across Guatemala, focusing on the repression and violence that has been used against protesters who oppose extractive projects.

A related article discusses Canada’s mining dilemma, highlighting violations of environmental and indigenous rights committed by mining companies abroad.

Community Radio Station Raided in Sololá, Guatemala

On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, Stereo Juventud — a community radio with programming in the Kaqchikel language — was raided by the Guatemalan Public Ministry. Two police trucks with about 20 policemen, accompanied by 10 government representatives, arrived at the radio station, cut off its power and seized its equipment. Indigenous authorities joined the community in a march to the courthouse, demanding the return of the equipment.

Intensification of Mexico-Guatemala border security

The Mexican government, encouraged and backed by the Obama administration, has taken actions to stop migration from Central America after a significant flow of underage migrants reached the Mexico-U.S border. The frequent governments raids on the trains on which migrants travel have pushed underage migrants to travel on foot, where they can fall victim to gangs and exploitation, being used as cheap labor, or sexual exploitation.

Daughter of former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt might run for presidency in Guatemala

The “Partido Liberador Progresista” (PLP) has invited ex-congresswoman Zury Ríos, the daughter of Efraín Ríos Montt, to become the political party’s candidate for presidency in the upcoming 2015 presidential campaign. The party’s inclusion in the campaign depends on her acceptance, which has not been confirmed.

American woman accused of illegal trafficking of minors

Nancy Susan Bailey, founder of the Seeds of Love orphanage in Guatemala, was apprehended on December 17, 2014 in El Salvador, and turned over to Guatemalan authorities via Interpol. Bailey is accused of human trafficking; in Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity 2010 report, 3,342 irregular adoptions were noted, mostly to US couples.

 

 

Guatemala News Update: September 8-19

IACHR Declares Guatemala in “Contempt of Court”

The IACHR published its resolution from a May supervisory hearing at the Inter-American Court, in which the Court asked the government of Guatemala to report on the progress it had made in 11 cases, including the Rio Negro and Military Diary cases.

In its resolution, released August 22, the Court stated: “Guatemala did not inform about advances in compliance […] but instead assumed a radical change in its position intended to question the Court’s decision […]. For example, Guatemala questioned the ability for the Court to try crimes before 1987, and negated the continuing nature of the crime of forced disappearance.

The Court explicitly stated that Guatemala’s position expressed at the hearing “constitutes a clear act of contempt of court,” and reminded Guatemala of its legal obligations to comply with Court sentences — above and beyond any domestic laws — including amnesties.

Violence Possible in Mining Sector

Amnesty International released a new report about mining in Guatemala, calling attention to the growing social unrest and conflict provoked by these projects. According to the report, the Guatemalan government is exacerbating social conflict and the likelihood of violence by failing to consult with local communities before awarding mining licenses to companies. Despite fierce opposition to mining licenses, the government has awarded at least 240 licenses to businesses so far. The report can be read in full here.

Hundreds Protest over Rural Development Act

On September 18th, hundreds of indigenous and rural citizens protested in front of Guatemala’s Congress to show support for the passage of the Rural Development Law and to repeal a law that would prohibit any obstacles which block roads or limit transportation. The Legislative Branch should consult the indigenous towns before passing laws that directly impact them, yet the government recently passed several laws without the approval of indigenous groups.

The protests caused several road blocks which were maintained for three to four hours. During violent attempts by the police to break up community roadblocks by Ch’orti’ communities in Chiquimula, reporter Norma Sansir was arrested by the police. There have been several other instances of violence against reporters and government actions that contradict the idea of free press.

On September 23, Norma and four others who were arrested were released from jail.

Prior Agreements Shown in Court of Appeals Nomination Process

The process to choose nominees for the Court of Appeals began yesterday (September 17th). As a final list of candidates was compiled, questions arose over whether some names included in the list were already agreed upon, prior to the vote.

Extension of CICIG mandate to be considered

Despite previous recommendations not to extend the mandate of the CICIG — a UN-backed international body charged with helping State institutions investigate serious crime — President Pérez Molina announced that the executive branch will consider an extension of the CICIG in respect to specific sectors that would benefit from its support.

News Update: September 28 – October 4

Friday marks the one year anniversary of massacre in Totonicapán

A plaque in honor of the victims was unveiled today in commemoration of the killing of six protesters in Cumbre de Alaska one year ago. Family members have suffered greatly due to this tragedy, and one widow told Siglo 21 “sometimes I don’t have anything to eat.” Surviving family members express discontent for not receiving more attention from officials, and for the stalled status of the legal process.

High tensions arise around Santa Cruz Barillas

On September 28 , thousands of residents in the municipality of Santa Eulalia were brutally repressed by riot police, who came to arrest anti-dam activist Maynor Manuel López Barrios. This spurred an escalation of protests in the area, resulting in at least three injuries. One account reports police shooting, firing tear gas and throwing stones at civilians. 150 soldiers and 80 police officers were deployed to maintain control of the situation.

Continue reading

News Update: August 31- September 6

Indigenous group brings complaint against Mining Law to IACHR

The Western People’s Council of Mayan Organizations (CPO) has filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) against Guatemala’s Mining Law, based on the law’s lack of a mechanism to consult with indigenous communities, which the CPO claims violates international law. Previously, the CPO challenged the law before Guatemala’s Constitutional Court but the Constitutional Court upheld the Mining Law, leaving the CPO no recourse but the IACHR.

CICIG has new leader

Iván Velásquez Gómez is the new head of the International Comission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). President Otto Pérez Molina announced that this was the last period of CICIG in the country and the investigation of ongoing and new cases will continue until 2015, when they will have to transfer the work to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police.

Polochic families demand integral support

While the government is set next week to give 140 land titles to families evicted from the Polochic Valley two years ago, these residents point out that land is not sufficient to return to a sustainable lifestyle. The area where they will be relocated is more than 80 km from their original community of Agua Caliente and lacks water, roads, and basic services. They also expressed frustration over the cumbersome and bureaucratic process of obtaining the titles.

Continue reading

Weekly News Round Up Feb. 18-22

Genocide Trial date moved from August 14th to March 19th
The trial for José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Rodriguez has officially been rescheduled. The trial is now set to begin on March 19th 2013. Judge Jazmín Barrios rejected a recusal presented by Ríos Montt’s defense against the First Court of High Risk.

US Southern Command General John Kelly makes an official visit to Guatemala
The General arrived on February 20th for a two day visit to the country. According to diplomatic sources, the purpose of the trip is to analyze and discuss issues of bilateral security, such as drug trafficking and organized crime, with Guatemalan officials.

Continue reading

Weekly News Round-Up

January 23-27

National News

  • Military presence has increased with the intention to increase security. There are mixed feelings about this, however. While widespread concern over violence and lack of police effectiveness has generated support for the army, the move awakens distrust and fear caused by the military atrocities committed during the internal conflict. President Pérez Molina has ignored concerns of human rights groups about re-militarization, stating that is strictly for the security of the Guatemalan people.
  • President Pérez Molina announced that he will prolong the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) for 2 extra years. The CICIG works to uncover and dismantle clandestine organized crime networks, and will remain in place until September of 2015.
  • Human Rights Watch released a report criticizing the lack of prosecution in criminal cases in Guatemala, stating:  “Guatemala’s weak and corrupt law enforcement institutions have proved incapable of containing the powerful organized crime groups and criminal gangs that contribute to one of the highest violent crime rates in the Americas.” The report indicates that 95% of cases that reach the courts remain in impunity.
  • Lawyers met to discuss the charges of unconstitutionality brought against four articles of the Law against Femicide.  The plaintiffs maintain that the law is repressive to nuclear families and violates Article 1 of the Constitution. Supporters of this law claim that is necessary for the protection of women’s rights. The historic legislation, passed in 2008, was the first to legally recognize femicide. It also defines violence against women broadly, and criminalizes psychological and economic violence.
  • The Association of Extractive Industries has signed a voluntary agreement with the Guatemalan government to pay up to an additional 5% in royalties. The deal, signed by 22 mining companies on January 26th, will affect companies such as GoldCorp subsidiary Montana Exploradora, which mines gold and silver in San Marcos and will contribute the highest increase of 5%. The mining project is one of the most controversial in Guatemala, and indigenous communities and environmentalists have asked for the closure of the mine due to negative environmental and health impacts.
  • Guatemala’s former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was formally charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. The decision by Judge Carol Flores Blanco, after a day-long hearing on January 26, was a symbolic victory for relatives of victims and survivors of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict and for human rights groups, who have long battled for the prosecution of the former general. Ríos Montt was allowed to post bail and be put under house arrest instead of going to prison.
  • Also on January 26, the Guatemalan Congress ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

International News

  • HHS offers aid over Guatemalan STD lawsuit.  The Department  of Health and Human Services announced a $1.8 million aid to the Guatemalan health authorities to help fight sexual disease that some say was started with research in human subjects by the United States government in the 1940’s.