Guatemala News Update: December 1-5

Families Evicted from the Polochic Valley Call for Housing and Relocation

In March of 2011, 769 families were violently evicted from their homes in the Polochic Valley to make way for the sugar cane company Chabil Utzaj. This week, representatives from The Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) presented a letter to President Otto Pérez Molina asking that the government honor its promise to relocate all the families. In addition, several international organizations have also been pressuring the government to fulfill its prior agreement to compensate the evicted families.

So far, only 140 families have been given land. The other 629 are still waiting without access to basic public services, food, and other necessities.

One day after receiving the letter, the government announced that it will buy two more plots of land to distribute to 250 more families in March of 2015. The remaining 379 families are slated to receive land sometime later in 2015.

Rodríguez Under House Arrest

Guatemala’s High Risk Court has accepted the petition of José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez — one of the co-defendants in the genocide trial — to be placed under house arrest instead of in pretrial detention, due to health concerns. He was also granted bail of Q 500,000.

A separate motion to send Ríos Montt to prison as he awaits trial was rejected; he will remain under house arrest. The trial is set to resume in early January, 2015. 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.