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

Claudia Paz y Paz excluded from shortlist of candidates for attorney general

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GHRC laments  the decision earlier this week by the Nominating Commission to exclude Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz from the list of candidates sent to President Pérez Molina for attorney general.

Dr. Paz y Paz — the current Attorney General — received only 4 votes out of 13, despite the fact that she received the second highest score during the review process and is widely recognized for her professionalism and successful efforts to decrease impunity over the last three years in Guatemala.

The roster of the six finalists raises grave concerns about the independence of the institution in the future. Three of the six candidates selected have been the subject of serious objections raised by the CICIG; the other three have also been the subject of allegations from other groups. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: March 17-21

Human Rights Ombudsman to reprimand institutions for noncompliance with Access to Information Law

The Human Rights Ombudsman, Jorge de León, announced that his office will present a report to the Public Ministry that will list institutions which have failed to comply with the Access to Information Law. 

Format of elections for Supreme Electoral Court questioned

Last week, Guatemalan parliament chose five judges and five alternate judges to comprise the Supreme Electoral Court until 2020. The judges were chosen in private meetings and some are now questioning the secretive format of the elections, fearing that the chosen judges may have to return favors to the election committee.  Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: March 3-7

Investigation to follow death of Supreme Court Justice César Barrientos Pellecer

Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice César Barrientos Pellecer died last Sunday in Mazatenango bullet wounds to the head. News sources first presented conflicting reports as to whether his death was a suicide or a homicide; however, the National Forensic Science Institute (Inacif) confirmed that Barrientos committed suicide. GHRC expressed profound sadness regarding Barrientos’ death and released a note, written by Barrientos shortly before his death, which exemplified his dedication to justice. Now, the court must choose someone to fill the vacancy left by Barrientos.

Two years of peaceful resistance in La Puya

The communities of San José de Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc (‘La Puya’) celebrated two years of peaceful resistance last Sunday against a mining project by U.S.-owned company Kappes, Cassiday and Associates that would cause severe harm to the environment. Around 1,000 people joined a march on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary. See highlights and photos from the event here. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 24-March 2

Two years of peaceful resistance in La Puya

The community of La Puya celebrated two years of peaceful resistance yesterday against a mining project by U.S.-owned company Kappes, Cassiday and Associates that would cause severe harm to the environment and affect the health and homes of many in the areas of San José de Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc. Around 1,000 people joined a march to commemorate the anniversary and protest future mining plans. Last week, the contracting company broke their relationship with KCA and pulled the machinery out of the mine permanently. GHRC joined the protesters in solidarity and La Puya presented GHRC with a certificate of appreciation for standing by them in peaceful resistance.

Short-list of candidates for attorney general position to be presented in May; CC hears final arguments regarding the term of Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz

The nominating committee will turn in a list of six candidates for the next attorney general to President Pérez Molina on May 2. Candidates, who must prove their legal and personal accomplishments and that they do not associate with members of organized crime, may apply this Friday through March 7. Paz y Paz has not yet decided whether she will run for reelection.

The Constitutional Court heard final arguments on February 26 from Claudia Paz y Paz on why she should stay in office until December, and from Ricardo Sagastume on why her term should end in May. Supporters from both sides attended the hearing, including representatives from GHRC. Though Paz y Paz supporters had a greater presence, Sagastume said he felt “secure” that the court would rule in his favor. The Court has 15 days to deliver a decision.

Inter-American Development Bank to cooperate with Guatemalan government for Chixoy reparations

After meeting with President Pérez Molina and Minister of Finance María Castro, Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, announced that the Bank will cooperate with the Guatemalan government to compensate surviving victims of the 1980s Chixoy Dam project.

Human rights defenders cite slow advances for justice in Guatemala

In honor of the UN’s Commission for Historic Clarification’s report “Memorias del Silencio,” released 15 years ago, human rights organizations expressed that progress has been slow regarding access to justice for the victims of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.

Central American women speak out against violence

This Guardian piece looks at the obstacles, including threats and harassment, faced by women human rights defenders in Central America, as well efforts by the Mesoamerican Human Rights Defenders’ Initiative (IM-Defensoras) to provide women with security and support. The article highlights Lolita Chavez, a GHRC partner who came to the US to speak last year, who has been targeted on multiple occasions for speaking up for indigenous rights and women’s rights.

High Risk Court declines to hear Rios Montt amnesty application

The High Risk Court declined to analyze Rios Montt’s request for amnesty. The President of the Tribunal explained that the High Risk Court already ruled on this issue in October of 2012 and could not rule on it again. This is the third court to excuse itself from the process. Rios Montt is currently under house arrest and is awaiting his trial in January of 2015, though his application for amnesty must be decided first.

Inter American Press Association asks Guatemala to investigate murder of four journalists

A delegation from the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP) visited Guatemala last week to meet with President Pérez Molina and other officials on the status of freedom of the press in the country, as recent events have signaled an increase in violence against journalists. The SIP encouraged the administration to investigate the murder of four journalists last year. 

Later this week, the CC decided to suspend measures against José Rubén Zamora, the president of “El Periódico,” who Vice President Roxana Baldetti accused of falsifying information about corruption in the administration. As a result, Guatemala will establish the “Sistema de Protección a Periodistas” (Journalists’ Protection System) to ensure freedom of the press and safety for journalists. The U.S. Department of State’s annual report on human rights throughout the world also expressed concern for violations regarding press freedom in Guatemala in 2013.

Trial begins for another ex-guerilla leader

In Chimaltenango, the trial began on Thursday for an ex-guerilla leader accused of killing 21 indigenous farm workers in 1988 during the Civil War. The accused, Fermín Solano Barillas, has been in prison since May of last year, and could be sentenced to more than 50 years in prison.

Nine convicted in May 2011 massacre

A Guatemalan court convicted three Mexican and six Guatemalan drug traffickers last Friday in the massacre of Guatemalan farm workers in May of 2011. The sentences given were for 106 to 114 years in prison.

Guatemala News Update: February 17-21

Paz y Paz to testify before the CC next week

Claudia Paz y Paz will give testimony before the Constitutional Court next Wednesday regarding why she should stay in office through December of 2014, instead of only through May. The attorney general holds that her term ends four years after she was appointed, which would be this December. She is still deciding if she will run for reelection.

Appeals in genocide trial of Rios Montt advance

The Constitutional Court ordered the Second Appeals Court to decide if amnesty should be applied in the case against General Rios Montt for genocide and war crimes based on a law passed in 1986. The Court requested an explanation of the decision with “solid legal arguments.” In a separate appeal in the same case, the Constitutional Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 26 regarding Judge Patricia Flores’s ruling to restart the trial from where it was in November of 2011. The trial of Rios Montt, who is currently under house arrest, is scheduled to continue in January of 2015. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 10-14

Representatives from international organizations (including GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones, second from right) express concerns about the reduction of Attorney General Paz y Paz's term at a press conference in Guatemala City.

Representatives from international organizations (including GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones, second from right) express concerns about the reduction of Attorney General Paz y Paz’s term at a press conference in Guatemala City.

GHRC and other international organizations call for transparency in election of new attorney general

On Wednesday, GHRC and other international organizations called for transparency in the election of a new attorney general, after the ruling that Claudia Paz y Paz will end her term this May. The organizations’ spokespeople stated that transparency in this process will help ensure that the right person gets the job. GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones noted that the process should include people from all sectors of society. Read our blog about the press conference for more information. Continue reading