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: 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

Guatemala News Update: January 27-31

The World Bank building

The World Bank building. Photo courtesy of the World Bank photo collection.

Washington Post: U.S. Pushes for Outside Oversight of World Bank, Opposes Push Toward ‘Big Hydro’

The 2014 U.S. Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which the U.S. Congress passed this month, continues to receive media attention this week. The Bill instructs the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (which co-funded construction of the Chixoy Dam in Guatemala) to support the implementation of reparations for the affected Mayan communities.

Some in Guatemala expressed concern that the conditions would affect foreign investment; others have argued that compensating the Chixoy victims reduces the negative perception that indigenous communities have regarding hydroelectric dam projects. For affected communities, however, the Bill provides an important mechanism through which to pressure the Guatemalan government and the banks to follow through with their obligation to provide reparations to those affected by the dam. The story has received international attention, and was featured in the The Guardian.

The Bill further requires the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to certify the Guatemalan government has met a series of human rights conditions before the Guatemalan army will be allowed to receive DOS funds. Continue reading

GHRC Participates in Congressional Briefing on Drug War Policy

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Congressman O’Rourke comments on drug war policy at the briefing

This month, GHRC, as a part of the Mesoamerican Working Group (MAWG), helped organize a briefing titled: “Rethinking the Drug War in Central America and Mexico.” The hearing was hosted by Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM) and attended by Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who called for an end to the current drug war model as well as fact-based evaluations to inform policy changes. Representatives at the hearing focused on three Central American countries – Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras – experiencing similar and dramatic effects of increased militarization as a result of the ongoing war on drugs. Continue reading

News Update: September 21-27

Ex-police chief sentenced to 40 years

Hector Bol de la Cruz, chief of police from 1983-85, was convicted in the 1984 kidnapping and disappearance of student union leader Fernando Garcia. The court also sentenced former senior police officer Jorge Gomez to 40 years for his role in the kidnapping.

Former Kabil Standing Trial in U.S. for Lying on Citizenship Application

Federal prosecutors are accusing Jorge Sosa, a former Kabile, of lying on his citizenship application by concealing his involvement in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre that left over 200 people dead. Sosa, who is married to an American, was originally denied asylum in 1985. If convicted, Sosa could be stripped of his United States citizenship and face 15 years in prison. Guatemalan authorities will seek his extradition to charge him with crimes against humanity as well.

Guatemala to Rent Drones for Video Surveillance

The Interior Ministry announced that in 2014 it will rent a fleet of drones, for video surveillance. The Ministry stated that the drones would be used in military and security capacities. They will permit the government to, among other things, monitor drug trafficking along the country’s borders, criminals and criminal activities, and protests.

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.

Weekly News Round-Up

Weekly Round-Up: 12/11 – 12/16

National News

  • President-elect Pérez Molina met with Mexican President Felipe Calderón yesterday to discuss their collaboration on a variety of issues.  In a press conference following the meeting, Pérez Molina reported that they had discussed several issues, including the creation of a civil intelligence platform to share information regarding the organized crime and narco-trafficking and a possible ‘consular pass’ that would allow Guatemalan immigrants to travel through Mexico without a visa.
  • Fifty more names have been added to the list of those accused of violent actsduring their supposed involvement with the leftist guerilla movement of Guatemala’s armed conflict.  Theodore Michael Plocharski, a Guatemalan citizen responsible for the accusations, is claiming that the accused were involved in the kidnapping, torture and assassination of eight diplomats.  The list includes human rights defenders and social activists Sandra Torres Casanova, Orlando Blanco and Marielos Monzón.
  • In an interview with ElPeriodico, Theodore Plocharski comments on his motives for accusing over 50 people with links to the assassination of diplomatsand association with the leftist guerilla movements during the armed conflict.  Plocharski said he wants the truth to be heard and justice to be served and argued that it is time the Attorney General investigates crimes committed by the guerrillas as well as the military.  He also commented that he is not necessarily proposing legal action against the individuals on the list, but rather against the guerilla entities—ORPA, EGP, PGT and FAR.

    Michael Plocharski, denunciante. (Foto Prensa Libre: Erick Avila)

International News

Weekly News Round-Up

National News

International News

Weekly News Round-Up

National News

International News

Crisis Group releases report on narcotrafficking and violence in Guatemala

The International Crisis Group, ‘an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict,’ recently released an extensive report documenting the recent influx of drug-trafficking and violence into Guatemala, highlighting state corruption, strategic geographic location and internal economic and social inequities as major factors contributing to the violence.  The report also includes an overview of the increased presence of the Los Zetas drug cartel and an evaluation of the state and judicial institutional systems, providing concrete recommendations for the incoming president. Check out the full report and executive summary. 

Following last month’s release, Kimberly Abbott (Communications Director for North America at the International Crisis Group) published an interview with Mark Schneider, Senior Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America about the economic, geopolitical and institutional factors contributing to the increase in violence in Guatemala.  Schneider makes some recommendations for the incoming president, including support of Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, the work of Helen Mack and national police reform, and the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG). Listen to the podcast, which provides a succinct and helpful explanation of why the violence has been increasing and what should be done about it.