Guatemala News Update: March 26-April 1

Genocide Case: Expert Forensic Anthropologist confirms horrors committed

On the 4th day of the closed-door debates against Jose Efraín Ríos Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez,  they listened to the testimonies of  forensic anthropologists who carried out the exhumations in the Ixil area and confirmed the horrible crimes the army committed there against the unarmed civilian population.

Ríos Montt is represented by a third party in the closed-door special proceedings; the Court does not have the power to impose a prison sentence due to Rios Montt’s physical health.

In a recent public statement, GHRC and partner organizations expressed concern about the case and called for the trial against Rodríguez Sánchez to be public.

Judge Gálvez declassifies 8 military plans from the armed conflict

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez declassified eight plans from the military campaign which were used as strategies during the internal armed conflict between 1983 and 1990. These can now be used in in-progress investigations related to the Military Diary and cases of extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, and massacres.  Copies of these documents have been given to plaintiff groups including, FAMDEGUA and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation.

CERIGUA: Poverty is worsening in the country

Currently 79.2% of the population in Guatemala is living in poverty, while 46.6% are below the extreme poverty line. This situation principally affects indigenous and rural communities, and, according to CERIGUA, the State has not adequately addressed this issue and in fact there has even been regression on progress on these issues since the start of Morales’ presidency.

Ex-President Otto Pérez Molina’s Hearing Suspended

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez has suspended the scheduled hearing of the former president due to an appeal from the Attorney General’s Office, and it was not clear when the trial would resume. Both the former president and former vice-president, Roxana Baldetti resigned last year after a corruption scandal involving both came to light. Former Vice-President Baldetti arrived late to the proceedings due to health problems according to her lawyers, and the judge ordered she undergo medical examinations.

Following the March 28th court appearance, former President Pérez Molina was quoted as stating “I am innocent, and everyone must respect that.” He has also blamed the U.S. Embassy for interfering in the internal affairs of Guatemala through the CICIG.

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Guatemala News Update: October 5-9

Appeals court rejects amnesty for Ríos Montt

A Guatemalan appeals court has rejected former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt’s request for amnesty in a trial regarding Montt’s responsibility for war crimes and genocide. Though Montt was recently diagnosed with dementia, he will face a special, closed-door trial in early 2016. Due to his condition, Montt will be represented by his lawyers.

Ambassador Thomas Shannon Visits Guatemala

US Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, Counselor of the Department of State, traveled to Guatemala City from October 7-9.

In a meeting with President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, Shannon reiterated US political and financial support for Guatemala and for the Alliance for Prosperity — a development plan created by the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, with support from the US. The plan was initially a response to the influx of child migrants in the US from Central America, and Shannon lauded “advancements” in border security as well as in reducing trafficking and child migration. GHRC and partners presented concerns about migration and the Alliance for Prosperity at a congressional briefing on Sept. 16.

Shannon also reiterated the importance of CICIG, stating that the renovation of its mandate was “very important” for the US Congress.

Guatemala to Investigate Who Is to Blame in Mudslide

Guatemala’s public prosecutor’s office is conducting an investigation into who was responsible for a mudslide just outside of Guatemala City that left at least 250 people dead and several hundred missing. There had been warnings of a mudslide for weeks, and throughout the past fifteen years many have occurred. 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.

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 8-12

Guatemala’s Supreme Court Opens the Door for the Prosecution of Pérez Molina

The Supreme Court has approved for congress to decide whether to remove President Pérez Molina’s immunity from prosecution for possible involvement in the “La Linea” and IGSS corruption scandals. Should Perez Molina be put on trial, his possible prosecution would essentially result in his impeachment. 

The Upcoming 2015 Elections

In this Saturday, May 30, 2015 photo, protesters carry a fake coffin with a effigy of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina during a protest to demand his resignation in Guatemala City. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (The Associated Press)

In this Saturday, May 30, 2015 photo, protesters carry a fake coffin with a effigy of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina during a protest to demand his resignation in Guatemala City. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (The Associated Press)

A recent poll by Costa Rican firm Borge y Asociados indicates that while conservative candidate Manuel Baldizón is still the favorite to win the upcoming presidential election, comedian Jimmy Morales is gaining support. Morales is seen as an anti-establishment candidate with little ties to Guatemala City, which could benefit him with the recent public outcry over government corruption. Morales is running as a member of the right-wing party, Frente de Convergencia Nacional, which has ties to the military. However, many express their doubt in Morales’ ability to lead as president. He has also recently made controversial comments about the past internal conflict in the country, including his denial that genocide was committed against the Maya Ixil people. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: May 25-29

One Year After Violent Eviction, La Puya Under Threat Again

On May 26, almost exactly one year after police violently broke up the peaceful anti-mining blockade at La Puya, approximately 300 police officials arrived again at the site. Police officials claimed that they were responding to an allegation that members of La Puya had illegally detained several mine works — an accusation that community members say is “totally false,” and that a justice of the peace could find no evidence to substantiate.

Police threatened to evict protesters, but lacked the required eviction order to forcefully remove them. While community members have let workers in to the mine and no longer block the road, a contingent of police remain, and a new police camp has been set up on company land right across from La Puya. Read more about recent events at La Puya on our blog.

Vice President Baldetti’s Properties Raided

On May 28, Guatemalan authorities and CICIG officials raided 14 properties associated with former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, whose press secretary has been linked to the tax fraud scandal that resulted in the resignation of several top Guatemalan officials earlier this month. Baldetti resigned on May 8 due to increasing public pressure, although she denies any involvement in the scandal. Continue reading