Jimmy Morales, Professional Comedian, Elected in Guatemalan Presidential Run-off

Riding a wave of anti-establishment emotion, Jimmy Morales – a comedian with no political experience, and backed by military hard-liners – has been elected as Guatemala’s next president.

Jimmy Morales. Photo: AFP

Jimmy Morales. Photo: AFP

Morales saw his popularity surge amid a series of corruption scandals that led to mass citizen protests, the arrest of several high-level government officials, and the resignation of former president Otto Pérez Molina. Capitalizing on his reputation as a “political outsider,” Morales achieved an unexpected first-round win in September before defeating former First Lady Sandra Torres in the October 25 runoff election.

Jimmy Morales, like his opponent, has made promises of transparency and anti-corruption efforts. But he has drawn criticism for his vague policies, his use of racist caricature, and the fact that some of his backers – including the founders of his political party FCN – are conservative members of the military who have been linked to war crimes from the internal armed conflict.

Jimmy Morales (FCN Party) won nearly 70% of the votes. Source: TSE

Jimmy Morales (FCN Party) won nearly 70% of the votes. Source: TSE

Though some Guatemalans are cautiously optimistic about the future, many remain skeptical that Morales will be able to pull the country out of its current political turmoil. “Nothing is going to change,”one voter said via Twitter – even as she cast her ballot.

Questions about the possibility of seeing lasting change in Guatemala were reiterated last week in Washington, DC, where members of Guatemala’s Human Rights Convergence and other civil society organizations participated in hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and met with US government officials.

In back-to-back hearings on transitional justice and the criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala, petitioners highlighted prominent examples of criminalization, including the defamation and unfounded complaints against lawyers and expert witnesses in the genocide case. 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

Guatemala News Update, August 24-28: 100,000 Join Protest in Guatemala City

Thousands Join Protest; Call for Resignation of Otto Pérez Molina

A general strike was called on Thursday, August 27 as an estimated 100,000 people gathered in Guatemala City’s central plaza to call for the resignation of President Pérez Molina, an end to corruption, and postponement of the upcoming elections. Many schools and businesses closed yesterday to allow for participation in the protest, and, in the end, Guatemala’s powerful business lobby — CACIF — also supported the strike.

The protest — the biggest yet in a series of mass mobilizations held over the last 17 weeks — comes just after President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named last week as the head of “La Linea,” a tax fraud scheme used to defraud the State of what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Baldetti was arrested on August 21 and is being charged with criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Pérez Molina, who has reiterated that he will not step down and has already survived one attempt from congress to strip him of his immunity from prosecution, is also implicated in the corruption network. Once again, Guatemala’s top court ruled on August 25 to accept a petition to repeal the president’s immunity, and the matter now awaits a decision from congress.

Protest-Aug27“It was incredible to feel the energy of everyone present,” said Dania Rodríguez, GHRC’s interim director of the Guatemala office. “The plaza was filled with families, students, representatives from the government and business sectors, artists, and indigenous authorities from different departments. People began arriving at 8:00 am, with many people staying until after 10:00 pm at night. “

Demonstrators used the space to call for the resignation of the president, holding signs that read “Yo no tengo presidente” (I don’t have a president) and “Renuncia Ya” (Step Down). The Attorney General’s office, the National Council of Bishops and the government comptroller’s office have also urged the president to resign.

“However, others,” Dania explained, “made calls for comprehensive government reform, for the possibility of a transitional government, for reforms to electoral law, and for the postponement of the national elections scheduled for September 6.”

To read more from GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones about concerns around the upcoming elections, click here. The protests were also covered by Democracy Now and were the subject of Al Jazeera’s August 27 episode of The Stream.

Genocide Retrial is Set for Guatemalan Former Dictator

On August 25, judges ruled that the re-trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez will move forward. On August 18, Montt was diagnosed with “incurable” dementia — the culmination of a series of psychiatric evaluations that had delayed the trial for weeks and threatened to shut down the case. Despite the fact that Montt is unable to appear in court, a closed-door trial will move forward with witnesses (but will not be open to the public). Judges also ordered that the physician who has been treating Montt be investigated for possible medical negligence and for potentially endangering his life.

Montt’s legal team will represent him in court, and the next hearing is set for January 11, 2016.

Earlier in August, GHRC Executive Director spoke about the case on Latin Pulse radio.

Corruption Investigations Implicate President; Guatemalans Urge Reforms Before Elections

BarramosCorruption-N.Rivera(A version of this article by Kelsey Alford-Jones was first published by TeleSUR)

Investigations into corruption in Guatemala have expanded to the highest levels of government as President Otto Pérez Molina and his former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named on Friday as the head of “La Linea,” a criminal structure that has been robbing an unknown amount — but what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars — from the State. Baldetti, who resigned on May 8, is in police custody, and will face prosecution for criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Guatemala’s top court also approved a process to repeal the president’s immunity from prosecution, and the matter now awaits a decision from the congress.

These investigations have spurred massive and sustained protests calling for the president’s resignation and represents a historic opportunity to bring about meaningful reform in a moment when the nation is on the verge of institutional collapse. With unprecedented momentum building to address unbridled government corruption and impunity, the biggest impediment to successful reform may be the September 6 elections.

Corruption Exposed

The move to bring the president and vice president to justice is only the latest development in a series of corruption scandals that have linked numerous high-level public officials, and all major political parties, to corruption and other illicit activities. In May alone, seven different government ministers resigned or were fired, many under investigation for charges ranging from granting anomalous contracts and influence trafficking, to criminal conspiracy and fraud. This week, numerous cabinet members resigned, including at least five more government ministers. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 17-24

Guatemala President Balks at Calls for Resignation

With just weeks until Guatemala’s general elections, public prosecutors and the CICIG revealed that they have uncovered enough evidence to place President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti at the top of a tax fraud scandal that has rocked the country since mid-April. Baldetti was arrested on August 21.

The announcement prompted another wave of resignations from government ministers; however, President Pérez Molina again rejected calls for his resignation in a public statement on Sunday.

Guatemalans Say Reforms Needed Before Any Future Election

In this opinion piece, GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones discusses Guatemala’s current political context, ponders what might happen next in the country, and explains the risks of moving forward with elections without much-needed reforms.

A related article also highlights the dismal conditions for holding Guatemala’s presidential election.

Doctors say Guatemala ex-dictator Rios Montt has dementia

On August 18, a team of medical evaluators ruled that Ríos Montt suffers from “incurable” dementia, a development which could prevent Montt from ever again facing trial. This was the final decision in a series of psychiatric evaluations of Montt that has delayed the trial for weeks. In a hearing is set for August 25, judges will decide whether or not the retrial will move forward. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: July 27-31

Victory for La Puya: “Communities struggling against mining win major victory in Guatemala”

This Upside Down World article describes the July 15 victory for the environmental movement ‘La Puya’ when Judge Angelica Noemi Tellez Hernandez ruled in favor of the nonviolent community resistance. The judge ordered Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) to suspend the construction of all infrastructure projects at its El Tambor mine in San Pedro Ayampuc.

GHRC has been supporting communities through a Change.org campaign, calling on KCA to comply with the court sentence. You can also read more about the court ruling on our blog.

Guatemalan Reporters Subjected to Increased Violence

The Association of Guatemalan Reporters (La Asociación de Periodistas de Guatemala) stated that it condemns the increase in aggression against reporters in the year 2015, and denounced the “constant intent to sabotage their informative work.” The CICIG is aware of the the influx in aggression and has expressed concern about this phenomenon.

La Tribuna

Ríos Montt Retrial Halted Once Again

Rios Montt was ordered on Saturday by a Guatemalan court to be transferred to a national hospital for additional psychiatric observation; the decision rejects a prior medical report conducted by Guatemala’s National Forensics Institute (Inacif) that found Ríos Montt senile, and thus unfit for trial. At the last minute, Montt’s scheduled transfer was blocked by a legal maneuver on the part of his defense attorneys, again halting the proceedings of the retrial for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Read more about the latest developments in the case in Spanish. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: July 6-10

Ríos Montt. Photo by James Rodríguez

Ríos Montt. Photo by James Rodríguez

Ex-ruler Ríos Montt found unfit for trial

Attorneys for Efraín Ríos Montt have requested that the genocide case against him be dismissed after an investigation by Guatemala’s National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF) deemed Montt unfit to stand trial. INACIF released a statement on July 7 declaring that the 89-year-old would not be able to respond accurately to questioning due to his mentally incapacitated state.

Following years of delays, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and war crimes in May 2013. The case was celebrated throughout Guatemala and Latin America as the first case in which a former dictator was convicted of genocide in a domestic court. The decision was rescinded 10 days later by the Constitutional Court due to a questionable legal technicality. The retrial was set for January of this year, but additional delay tactics further derailed the case. A hearing is scheduled for July 23, 2015 to determine whether the trial will move forward, although it seems unlikely that the case will proceed.

CICIG Captures Former Minister of Energy and Mines and Former Private Secretary for President Pérez Molina

On July 9, the CICIG announced the arrests of several more public officials on corruption charges including  another individual close to President Pérez Molina — Gustavo Martinez. Martinez is the president’s son-in-law and former private secretary, and has been arrested for alleged influence trafficking. According to the CICIG’s website, Martinez had inserted meetings with various companies into President Pérez Molina’s schedule in exchange for bribes. Former Vice Minister of Energy and Mines, Edwin Ramon Rodas Solares, was also arrested. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 29-July 3

Guatemala High Court Revives Immunity-Stripping Process for President Pérez Molina

On July 1, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court lifted the injunction suspending the process to remove President Pérez Molina’s immunity, which means that the Congressional Committee may now move forward with its investigation of Pérez Molina over corruption allegations. The process could result in the president’s impeachment.

Protesters Call for the Resignation of Pérez Molina

Demonstrators took to the streets of Guatemala City again this weekend to demand that President Pérez Molina resign amid allegations of corruption. Although many expected a low turn-out due to the national holiday on Monday, 300 people participated in the protest and have expressed their frustration that they are not “seeing any results.”

The Human Rights Convergence — a coalition of Guatemalan human rights groups — released a statement calling for the protection of citizens involved in the protests and other social movements to root out government corruption.

“Tear Gas Used to Attack Guatemala Village: Official Corruption Ransacking Nation’s Treasury and Natural Resources”

Epoch Times published an article reporting on the illegal jade mining in the mountainside of El Arco, highlighting the role of Guatemala’s National Civil Police (PNC) in protecting the illegal operations. Residents have been organizing through a group called the Fundación Turcio Lima (FTL), created to “obtain clean water rights and to exercise civil rights by ordinary people by enabling them to gain official titles to their real property.”

Two Police Officers Arrested for the Murder of Journalists

Three individuals, two of whom are police officers, were arrested for the murder of two journalists on Friday. The officers, Jorge León Cabrera Solís and Artemio de Jesús Juárez Pichiyá, were believed to have murdered journalists Danilo López (a journalist for Prensa Libre) and Federico Salazar on March 10 as they were walking through a park in Mazatenango.

Damming Dissent: Community leaders behind bars in Guatemala after opposing hydro projects

This article by Sandra Cuffe looks at the pattern of criminalization of community leaders in Huehuetenango for their involvement in movements to oppose hydroelectric dams in the region.

“Are we witnessing a Central American Spring?”

This Foreign Policy article looks at the parallels in corruption scandals in Honduras and Guatemala as an indicator for a potential political spring in the region.

Human Rights Convergence: Eradicate Anti-Social Movement Efforts in Guatemala

On June 25, The Human Rights Convergence — a coalition of human rights organizations — published a statement regarding the protection of civilian responses to the recent corruption scandals in Guatemala.

The Convergence put forward this information to demonstrate the acts of retaliation and repression against those participating in social movements calling for an end to government corruption. The Convergence sites specific incidents of attacks and threats, which include:

  •  A fire set to a local business of a social movement leader in Quetzaltenango.
  • Death threats against Congressman Amílcar Pop, after he initiated the judicial demand to investigate President Pérez Molina.
  • The seizure of a local bus from San Juan Sacatepéquez on its return from a march that occurred in Guatemala City on June 13.
  • The murder of two community leaders, Pablo Pajarito Rompich in Quiché and Santiago Ramírez in Petén.

The Human Rights Convergence therefore requests that actions be taken by all involved actors: that the CICIG, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Human Rights Attorney Office open investigations into these allegations; that the National Security System limit the executive branch’s powers to exploit public resources for illicit activities; and that Guatemalan society as a whole maintain its commitment to fighting impunity and corruption.

Below you can find the full statement from the Human Rights Convergence in Spanish.

The Human Rights Convergence is a coalition of organizations that was formed to support the agenda of human rights in Guatemala, in general, and in particular, to develop actions oriented towards the fight against impunity.


PDF Version: Pronunciamiento de la Convergencia de los Derechos Humanos

DESARTICULAR CIACS QUE ATENTAN CONTRA MOVIMIENTO SOCIAL 

ANTE LA OLEADA DE AGRESIONES Y AMENAZAS CONTRA EL MOVIMIENTO QUE RECLAMA LA DEPURACIÓN DEL ESTADO, LA CONVERGENCIA POR LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS, EXPONE: Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 22-26

Discovery of Suspected Congressional Corruption Network

Guatemala- AFP

Photo – AFP

Authorities opened an investigation on Thursday of a suspected network of ghost employees in Congress. Congressman Pedro Muadi has been linked to the alleged creation of 15 contracts of “ghost employees,” which are individuals recorded on a payroll system but who don’t actually work for that company or organization. It is believed that Congressman Muadi created these faulty contracts for security staff for a private company he owns. The CICIG requested the Supreme Court to carry out a pretrial investigation to remove Muadi’s immunity.

New York Times Op-Ed: “America’s Second Chance in Guatemala”

An Op-Ed by Anita Isaacs was featured in this week’s New York Times, in which Isaacs argues for more direct involvement by the US in Guatemala’s anti-corruption movement. Isaacs claims that the US has “turned its back” on hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans who have come together to demand the resignation of President Pérez Molina. She also argues that US officials, including Ambassador Todd Robinson, are manipulating the weakened political situation in Guatemala to pursue their own agenda. Isaacs expresses deep skepticism of Pérez Molina’s willingness to follow through on his commitments to carry out anti-corruption efforts. Continue reading