Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala Recognizes Defenders

On December 11, the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala presented its annual award, the Orden Juan José Gerardi, to three community activists: anti-mining activist Yolanda Oquelí; the indigenous mayor of Nebaj, Ana Laynez Herrera; and Rodolfo Cardenal Quezada Toruño (posthumously).


The award is given out each year as part of a commemoration of Human Rights Day. It honors Juan José Gerardi, a Guatemalan Roman Catholic Bishop and human rights defender, and since 2004, has recognized individuals or organizations who have made significant contributions to Guatemalan society through work in human rights, historic memory, or justice. Continue reading

News Update: May 3-22

Genocide Trial Update:  

Ríos Montt Genocide Ruling Overturned

On the evening of May 20th, the historic May 10th ruling that convicted former General Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide was overturned.  The Constitutional Court met to rule on a constitutional challenged raised by Ríos Montt’s defense attorneys at the very end of the trial. The 3-2 ruling in favor of the challenge sets the case back to April 19th, at which point all testimonies had been heard. However, while the annulment does not include the testimonies, it remains unclear whether the trial will be reconvened or repeated altogether.

Overturned Ruling Was Laden With Opposition

Challenges to the conviction do not come as a surprise. Since the trial’s conclusion, business and hard-line military supporters have issued numerous statements calling for its annulment. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Finance (CACIF) stated in a press release that the trial was illegal, that “justice had been prey to ideological conflict,” and the conviction of genocide was “an opinion of the court that we did not share.” Ríos Montt supporters have organized demonstrations protesting his conviction. Moreover, presidential spokesman Francisco Cuevas criticized the international community for “driving the polarization” of Guatemalans following the trial. He also claimed that foreign interference from NGOs in the trial court proceedings ultimately influenced the landmark genocide verdict.

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Weekly News Round-Up, March 6-17

Killing of human rights defender
On March 8, 2013, human rights defender and trade union leader Carlos Hernández Mendoza was killed. He was actively engaged in struggling for the right to free, prior and informed consent for indigenous communities whose lives and livelihoods are affected by large-scale dam construction and other projects in the region.

Ex military commissioner on trial for disappearance of student
On March 11, the High Risk Tribunal B (Tribunal Primero B de Mayor Riesgo) initiated a trial against ex military commissioner Isidro Cardona Osorio for the disappearance of a student in Chiquimula in 1982. He is charged with aggravated unlawful detention, abuse of authority, kidnapping, crimes against humanity and forced disappearance.

Continue reading

GHRC Expresses Concern for those in San Antonio Las Trojes 1

(español abajo)

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC) expresses its concern regarding the tense situation facing community members of San Antonio Las Trojes 1, San Juan Sacatepéquez.

The crisis originated on January 23, 2013 when heavy machinery arrived at the community, escorted by fifty workers from the Cementos Progreso cement factory, armed with machetes. The community was informed that drilling was to begin on a large well for potable water. This project had been proposed by an illegitimate “community development council”, approved by mayor Fernando Bracamonte, and promoted by the cement company.

Local leaders, however, had repeatedly rejected the project because of a lack of prior consultation with the families of the area, and for the division it would further provoke within the community, a population already split between the minority who support the cement factory and the overwhelming majority who oppose it.

The situation worsened on January 24, when a visiting verification commission headed by Daniel Pascual of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), along with international accompaniers and independent journalists were threatened and assaulted by armed supporters of the cement company. That night individuals wearing ski masks blocked the entrance to the community of Las Trojes, preventing local leaders from returning to their homes and families. Continue reading

Winner of 2012 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award Announced

We are proud to announce the recipients of the 2012 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award: The communities of San Pedro Ayampuc and San José del Golfo, who are peacefully defending their right to a healthy environment.
“Mining exploitation is contamination. Don’t sell your land. Yes to life!” (
For the past five months, members of these communities have bravely stood up to powerful, transnational corporations who are attempting to build a mine in their midst without consulting residents or even providing information about the project.
Men, women and children have banded together in the spirit of non-violent civil disobedience to block the road and prevent the equipment from entering and destroying the land that is their home and their livelihoods. They have faced death threats, and a nearly fatal assault on one of their members, Yolanda Oquelí.
Come hear two members of the communities, Alvaro Sandoval Palencia and Antonio Reyes Romero, speak about their inspiring struggle at our 30th Anniversary Celebration on September 27th.
Don’t miss out on this amazing event. Buy your tickets now!
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GHRC Condemns Attempted Assassination of Yolanda Oquelí / GHRC denuncia atentado contra Yolanda Oquelí

[en español abajo]

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA denounces the attempted assassination of community leader and anti-mining activist, Yolanda “Yoli” Oquelí.

On June 13th, at approximately 6:30pm, Yoli was ambushed by two men on a motorcycle while driving to her home in San José del Golfo. She was shot at repeatedly; one bullet entered above her right kidney.

Yoli was immediately rushed to a public hospital by community members where she underwent emergency surgery. She is currently in stable condition.

Yoli has been a vocal and passionate opponent of the installation of extractive mining operations in the communities of San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc. Her inspiring leadership is just one example of the coordinated efforts of men, women and children in these communities to say “NO” to mining and its potentially devastating effects on local drinking water, farming land and the environment in general.

However, two international corporations refuse to respect the will of these communities: the Canadian mining corporation Radius Gold and the U.S. engineering firm Kappes, Cassiday & Associates. Through their Guatemalan subsidiary Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala (Exmingua) they continue to push their open-pit and underground gold mining operation known as the Tambor Mine.

On March 2, 2012, local residents started a roadblock in order to prevent tractors, excavators and other mining equipment from entering their communities. Those who take turns guarding the roadblock have sworn to embrace the practice of nonviolent, peaceful resistance in defense of their rights.

On May 8th, a caravan of mining machinery, accompanied by hundreds of Guatemalan riot police, arrived in the middle of the night in an attempt to break the roadblock. They were unsuccessful.

Days before the attempt on her life, Yoli and other pro-environment activists presented a series of formal complaints to the Public Ministry regarding acts of intimidation, threats, and criminalization that they have suffered as a result of their defense of their natural resources.

To the Guatemala Government and the International community, GHRC declares:

* We denounce and condemn this latest attack on the brave women and men who, through the use of peaceful protest and nonviolent demonstration, are defending their rights to clean water, a healthy environment, and self-determination.

* We call on the Guatemalan authorities to investigate, capture, and prosecute all those responsible for this heinous crime; the hired guns as well as those who planned the assassination.

* We insist that authorities guarantee the safety and well-being of the community members of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc and to find a negotiated solution to this conflict which prioritizes the needs of the Guatemalan people over the profits of international corporations.

* GHRC stands in solidarity with Yolanda and wishes her a quick and complete recovery. We offer our heartfelt sympathy for her family, especially her two young children, for the fear and trauma that this attacked most assuredly had provoked.

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You can take action to support Yoli and her community by signing GHRC’s petition

La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Washington, EE.UU. (GHRC) denuncia el atentado contra la vida de Yolanda “Yoli” Oquelí, lideresa comunitaria y activista en el movimiento antiminero.

El 13 de junio, aproximadamente a las 6:30pm, Yoli se dirigía a su casa en San José del Golfo cuando fue atacada por dos hombres en una moto. Dispararon varias veces; una bala entró cerca a su hígado.

De inmediato, Yoli fue conducida a un hospital público por miembros de la comunidad, donde la atendieron de emergencia. Actualmente se encuentra en condición estable.

Yoli ha trabajado de forma muy visible y apasionada en oposición a las operaciones de la minería extractiva en las comunidades de San José del Golfo y San Pedro Ayampuc. Su liderazgo inspirador es solo uno de los múltiples ejemplos de los esfuerzos coordinados entre los hombres, mujeres y jóvenes de estas comunidades para decir ´NO´ a la minería y sus impactos negativos, dentro de los cuales se incluye la contaminación del agua potable del área, de las cosechas y del medio ambiente en general.

Sin embargo, dos empresas internacionales niegan respetar la voluntad de estas comunidades: la corporación minera canadiense Radius Gold y la firma de ingeniería estadounidense Kappes, Cassiday&Associates. A través de su subsidiario Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala (Exmingua) siguen impulsando su proyecto de minería subterráneo y a cielo abierto conocido como la Mina Tambor.

El 2 de marzo de 2012, miembros de la comunidad iniciaron un bloqueo con el fin de prevenir la entrada de los tractores, excavadoras y otro equipo de minería. Los que se turnan para mantener el bloqueo se han comprometido en abrazar la práctica de resistencia pacífica y la no violencia en la defensa de sus derechos.

El 8 de mayo, una caravana de maquinaria de minería, resguardada por cientos de agentes antimotines de la Policía Nacional Civil, llegó a la medianoche intentando quebrantar el bloqueo. No tuvieron éxito.

Unos días antes del atentado contra su vida, Yoli y otros defensores del ambiente presentaron una serie de denuncias ante el Ministerio Público sobre actos de intimidación, amenazas y criminalización que han sufrido como resultado de su defensa de sus recursos naturales.

GHRC manifiesta ante el Gobierno de Guatemala y la comunidad internacional que:

• Denunciamos y condenamos este último ataque contra las mujeres y hombres valientes quienes, a través de la protesta pacífica y la manifestación no violenta, defienden sus derechos al agua limpia, a un medio ambiente sano y la auto-determinación.

• Hacemos un llamado a las autoridades guatemaltecas a investigar, capturar y sancionar a aquellos responsables por este crimen atroz; tanto los autores materiales como intelectuales.

• Instamos a las autoridades a que garanticen la seguridad y bienestar de los miembros de la comunidades San José del Golfo y San Pedro Ayampuc y que encuentren una solución a través del diálogo la cual da prioridad a las necesidades del pueblo de Guatemala y no a las ganancias de las multinacionales.

• Expresamos nuestra solidaridad con Yolanda y esperamos que se recupere rápidamente y completamente. Ofrecemos nuestro respaldo a su familia, en especial a sus dos hijos pequeños, por el miedo y el trauma que este ataque sin duda ha provocado.

Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Washington, EE.UU. Washington, DC
14 de junio de 2012

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Se puede tomar acción para expresar su apoyo de Yoli y su comunidad a través de nuestra petición.

The Mine Once Again (La Mina Otra Vez)

The communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have been in peaceful resistance to a mining project in their communities. Here, the Committee of Campesino Unity (CUC) interviews Yoli Oqueli, who was brutally attacked on June 13. A partial transcript in English is included below.

Partial transcript: 

“San José del Golfo says no to mining and denounces threats and violation of its freedom of movement”

The reason for our protest is that since 2007, the mine we can see here in the background has been in place, and work started in an underground well to take samples in order to see the minerals and the potential that was here. Two months ago we positioned ourselves here to start a peaceful fight – a completely peaceful resistance; we’ve been here now for two months and four days. In that time we’ve received a lot of provocation from the mining company, and unfortunately the majority of people who came with the arrogance to provoke us, and even assaulted women, are retired coronels. They’ve contracted these military personnel to find a way to cause anxiety – people get scared when they hear that they’re from the military. But we believe in peaceful protests and everything we’ve been able to maintain here.

But just today, beginning at 1am, community leaders who live at the entrance to the town began to call us to inform us that many trucks were entering the area. There were people who counted between 28 and 30 trucks that came with material to construct the waste water tank and said that they had to begin right away. There were patrol cars that came as well, excessively – we counted and think that there were between 45 and 50 patrol cars. When my mom called me she told me that her house was completely surrounded by police, because one of the people who works with the mine is her neighbor and she indicated to the police that that was my parents’ house. We came to the house quickly – they made note of what our cars looked like too – and when we got there it was difficult for us to get permission to enter, to be able to drop off my children and to continue on by foot.
But the surprising thing is that there were also two vans of riot police, so they didn’t want to even let us pass on foot. They said to let the patrol cars cross and closed all the roads that have access to here, to where we’re protesting. We believe that what they’re looking for, in some way, is for there to be a confrontation here so that a state of siege can be established. We’ve come to understand that even though we’re acting within the law, the law does not favor us. But I think that in some way we will be able to maintain this peaceful situation, we pray to God, and we’re demanding that there be a community consultation, because a consultation never happened here.

4:30 And we asked them why, if we have freedom of movement, they were blocking the way – if there was a court order or something that said that we couldn’t enter. And they didn’t show us anything, they didn’t say anything, just that it was an order from the Interior Ministry.

5:25 “The Deputy Mayor of San Pedro Ayampuc clarifies that no municipal agreement exists that supports mining exploitation in the community.”

6:15 The company is called Exmingua and it is Project 7. Selvin Morales is the general manager of the company, and before, when they applied for a mining license, he was the director of mining.

“The communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc demand an end to work at the Proyecto 7 mine directed by the company Exmingua.”

You can take action to support Yoli and her community by signing GHRC’s petition

Guatemalans ‘Presente’ during the May Day march


“Without land, there is no life… Without farmers there is no food.”
CUC, member of Waqib’Kej and CLOC – Via Campesina

“The 12 communities of San Juan Sac[atepéquez] present in the struggle.”

Confederation of Union Unity of Guatemala: Work, Peace, Justice, Liberty.
Present in the struggle!

“We fight, we resist, and we will overcome.”
“Where there is little justice, being right is dangerous.”

Families from the marginalized neighborhoods of Guatemala City also participated in the march. “Yes to the legalization of our land, No more land evictions!”

“Youth of S.V.A. S. Present” [Union of Street Vendors of Coban]
“We demand the right to work and no more evictions!”

A positive sign from this year’s May Day march: the massive participation of youth demanding their rights in energetic, creative, and even musical ways!

Hope for the future… the next generation of Guatemalan activists!

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