Guatemala News Update: October 19-23

IACHR Holds 156 Period of Sessions

From October 17-23, human rights defenders and activists participated in hearings with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, DC. The Guatemala-focused hearings included the topics of transitional justice, criminalization of human rights defenders and justice operators, and the damaging impacts of monoculture African Palm plantations. Photos and videos from each hearing are available here.

First Disbursement of Funds as Part of Chixoy Dam Reparations Plan

The Guatemalan government made its first disbursement of Q22 million to family members in Baja Verapaz, as part of the reparations plan for the 33 communities affected by the construction of the hydroelectric Chixoy Dam. This marks the first action toward the implementation of the plan, which was finally signed by community representatives and former President Pérez Molina in November 2014. Continue reading

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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

UDEFEGUA calls for the respect for all rights during election process

In a context in which at least 282 municipalities have reported threats of conflict on election day on September 6, UDEFEGUA urges all citizens — whether they choose to vote for a candidate, casta null or blank vote, or abstain from the process entirely —  to exercise their rights peacefully.

La Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala ante el proceso electoral que se realizará el domingo 6 de septiembre de 2015 a la ciudadanía guatemalteca manifiesta lo siguiente:

Guatemala atraviesa una de las crisis institucionales más grandes de su historia democrática. El sistema de corrupción perpetuado utilizando la maquinaria de partidos políticos y aprovechando el voto ciudadano ha instalado a verdaderas corporaciones mafiosas al frente del Estado guatemalteco. En las semanas anteriores al proceso electoral el país ha vivido las movilizaciones ciudadanas más grandes de las últimas décadas, trasladando el reclamo ciudadano por la transparencia hacia el clamor por detener la galopante corrupción del sistema, la dimisión del ciudadano presidente, revisar el proceso electoral y depurar los listados de candidatos de personas cuya honorabilidad está cuestionada por tener procesos penales en curso o por tener pendientes procesos de antejuicio. Todo este contexto, coloca al proceso electoral en un ambiente de fragilidad, en tanto la legitimidad de los mismos está cuestionada por distintos sectores de la sociedad.

En ese marco, hemos observado con preocupación desde el mes de mayo el aumento de agresiones a ciudadanos, defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, que expresan su opinión ante la podredumbre de la clase política. Dichas agresiones no han sido ni prevenidas ni investigadas por las autoridades responsables, lo que ha permitido que su frecuencia y gravedad aumenten conforme se acercan las elecciones. Continue reading

Guatemala’s 2015 General Elections: Updates

*Election day updates at bottom of post

Despite the recent resignation of Otto Pérez Molina, a deepening political crises, and calls for the postponement of general elections, Guatemalans are gearing up for election day on September 6 — so far set to move forward as planned.

In addition to the presidential election, Guatemalans will also be voting for all 158 congress people and mayors in every city. Here, interestingly, the slate of candidates includes a number of people who come not from partisan political backgrounds but from Guatemala’s historic social movements and indigenous leadership structures.

The pool of candidates for president, though, has left voters feeling deflated, and analysts estimate that there will be high rates of absenteeism and “null” votes. (Null votes are used as a purely symbolic statement of dissent, given that a single vote can decide an election.)

Of the 14 parties that have launched presidential candidates, a handful have emerged as the most popular in polls:

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Campaign advertisement for Baldizón. Photo: InfoLatAm

Manuel Baldizón (president) and Edgar Barquín (vice president)
[Party: Renewed Democratic Liberty (LIDER)]

Baldizón is rumored to be engaged in illicit activity in Petén, though he is not under investigation. He has been an outspoken critic of the CICIG, which is currently investigating his vice-presidential candidate, Edgar Barquín, for criminal conspiracy, influence trafficking and money laundering.

Jimmy Morales (president) and Jafet Cabrera Franco (vice president)
[Party: National Convergence Front (FCN)]

Morales is a professional comedian with no experience in politics, yet his presidential campaign and has become very popular in polls. A candidate with the FCN party, he presents himself as a “new option,” but is funded in part by hard-liners in the Guatemalan military. Morales has also been linked to Byron Lima, a former military captain currently serving a sentence for the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi and who is now accused of criminal conspiracy and influence trafficking from within prison.

Sandra Torres (president) and Mario Leal (vice president)
[Party: National Union of Hope (UNE)]

Sandra Torres has been called the “least worst” by some. Of the center-left UNE party, she was first lady during President Colom’s administration, 2008-2012; she forged a divorce in order to run for president in 2011 but was barred. Her vice-presidential running mate is also under investigation for criminal activity.

Zury Rios (president) and Juan Luis Mirón (vice president)
[Party: Vision with Values (VIVA)]

Ríos is the daughter of military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, accused of overseeing a campaign of genocide and war crimes in the early 1980s. As the family member of a participant in a military coup, her candidacy is technically illegal.

Roberto González (president) and Rodolfo Neutze Aguirre (vice president)
[Party: CREO-UNIONISTA]

González is a former energy minister who is currently facing charges for alleged influence trafficking.

UPDATE | Sept. 4: Polls show that support for Baldizón has decreased, with Morales and Torres tied for the lead.

UPDATE | Sept. 5: UDEFEGUA released a press release calling for the peaceful expression of rights on Sept. 6, including for those who choose to cast a null vote or choose to abstain from the process.

UPDATE | Sept. 6: Guatemala’s new president, Maldonado Aguirre, voted early in the morning, reiterating the importance of reforms and urging “dialogue before conflict.” Many voting stations opened as normal and without conflict, though with mixed results in attendance.

Although the process has overall been peaceful, several issues of interference in the voting process have been reported, including:

  • In Totonicapán, some community members reported that the TSE call center was not functioning properly, and that there was confusion around voting locations.
  • One of this year’s candidates, Carlos Bezares, reported that he was unable to vote because someone else had falsified his documents and voted in his name.
  • There have been reports from several different areas about the transportation of people to voting sites by political parties. The Mirador Electoral election observation and monitoring group has also stated that it is aware of the vote buying that some parties intend to carry out, signaling out the UNE, PP and LIDER parties.

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: 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