News Update: June 22-July 1

March in memory of disappeared victims of the Civil War

On June 30, the same day as National Army Day, HIJOS (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against Forgetting and Silence) held their fifth annual peaceful march in the Historic Center of Guatemala City. The roughly 500 protesters hold the army accountable for the 45,000 people that disappeared during the war.

Land rush for sugarcane leaves thousands without land

Due to the increasing demand of bio fuel throughout Europe and the US, sugarcane has become an increasingly popular crop. Because of this, many companies are buying up land in Guatemala that was once used by corn farmers. Since they cannot afford to match the rent offered by sugarcane companies, many small-scale farmers are being forced to move, which is what happened in the Polochic Valley in 2011. As of May, nearly 1 million people were involved in over 1,400 land disputes in Guatemala.

Increase in attacks against human rights defenders

According to the Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge de León Duque, there has been an increase in attacks, assassinations and threats against human rights defenders this year. Four have been assassinated and nearly 500 reports of aggression have been registered. Many believe that the increase has to do with the recent genocide trial of Ríos Montt because it raised the profile of human rights defenders on a national level.

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Press release: La Puya in Nevada

June 26, 2013

Virginia City, NV— This Thursday, groups from Nevada and Guatemala will come together to highlight the damage that mining threatens to cause in both places.

The Comstock Residents Association, in partnership with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Great Basin Resource Watch, and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, will host Alvaro Sandoval Palencia, a representative from “La Puya” Guatemala. Together they will picket the annual shareholder’s meetings of Comstock Mining Incorporated (CMI) to highlight unethical mining practices carried out by CMI and related companies.

La Puya is a group of community activists from San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala, who have peacefully blocked the road which passes through their communities leading to the site of the proposed “El Tambor” mine. El Tambor is owned by a subsidiary of the Nevada based company, Kappes, Cassiday and Associates.

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We won’t let threats stop our work!

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The attack on GHRC a couple of weeks ago was a sharp reminder of what a dangerous time this is for human rights defenders in Guatemala. The messages of hate and violence posted on our Facebook page were echos of the slander and threats which our partners have suffered for months and even years.

Can you make a donation today to help us continue our work to protect human rights defenders?

In response to the attack, we received over 100 posts on our wall on Facebook expressing support for our work and for the survivors of genocide in Guatemala. These words, as well as numerous emails and phone calls, were an inspiring reminder of the strong and resilient network of activists we rely on. The messages we received were so heartwarming that I wanted to share some of them with you.

  “We stand in solidarity with the people of Guatemala, the brave judges and witnesses at the genocide trial and the dedicated human rights advocates at GHRC. God bless you and may your (and our) dream of human rights for all prevail!”

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News Update: May 31-June 12

OAS 43rd General Assembly

The Organization of American States had its 43rd General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala. In attendance were 28 chancellors and 500 representatives from member countries, as well as 80 permanent observing countries. The main topic of discussion was drugs, though there were no major developments or changes in policy.

Pérez Molina and Kerry’s Bilateral Meeting

US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Otto Pérez Molina met and discussed the United States’ migration reform and the situation of Guatemalans in the United States.  Molina expressed many worries; for example, how to stop deportations of Guatemalan migrants and that Guatemala should be involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Ontario Securities Commission Is Investigating Tahoe Resources

Tahoe Resources, a Canadian mining company, is being investigated by the Ontario Securities Commission in relation to the six people shot outside of the Escobal mines on April 27. It is reported that six of Tahoe’s employees have been implicated in the crime based on phone taps from the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s Office. As heard in court, Tahoe’s security director, Alberto Rotondo, ordered the murders of the protestors. The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project asked the Ontario Securities Commission to investigate Tahoe Resources claiming that the mining company had downplayed and hidden what their workers had done.

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Civil Society Organizations Call for New Security Model, Demilitarization, Human Rights

(Antigua, June 6) More than 160 civil society organizations representing hundreds of thousands of citizens in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the United States, sent an open letter to the OAS General Assembly today calling for alternatives to the war on drugs that guarantee respect for human rights.

Our organizations have documented an alarming increase in violence and human rights violations. While we recognize that transnational crime and drug-trafficking play a role in this violence, we call on our governments to acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region,” the letter states.

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GHRC and NISGUA hand over 2800 signatures demanding the release of Rubén Herrera

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Since Friday, March 15, Rubén Herrera, member of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango for the Defense of Natural Resources has been imprisoned in Huehuetenango, Guatemalaemala. He is charged with crimes including kidnapping and terrorism allegedly committed in relation to resistance to the Cambalam hydroelectric dam, operated by Spanish owned Hidro Santa Cruz. Citing irregularities in his case, over 2800 people from 52 countries have signed a petition to Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and President Otto Pérez Molina calling for Herrera’s immediate release. On May 22, GHRC and NISGUA staff handed over the signatures to the Prosecutor’s Office.

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Ante el estado de sitio en Santa Rosa y Jalapa, Guatemala

La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala expresa su profunda preocupación frente a la imposición de un estado de sitio en dos municipios del departamento de Jalapa y dos de Santa Rosa, que viene como parte de un patrón de ataques contra las comunidades, sus líderes y otros defensores de derechos humanos.

La Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos (UDEFEGUA), ha registrado 328 agresiones en contra de defensores en lo que va del año 2013. Los que se oponen a proyectos mineros han sido víctimas de una gran parte de estas agresiones. Trágicamente, estos hechos rara vez resultan en investigaciones adecuadas y en la sanción de los responsables, contribuyendo a un ambiente peligroso de impunidad.

Ahora, a un año de haber decretado estado de sitio en el municipio de Barillas Huehuetenango, el día 2 de mayo el gobierno de Otto Pérez Molina, decretó estado de sitio en los municipios de Jalapa y Mataquescuintla del Departamento de Jalapa y los municipios de Casillas y San Rafael las Flores del Departamento de Santa Rosa.

El informe de verificación realizado por Waqib Kej, ha registrado abusos de autoridad, intimidación hacia la población, el uso desmesurado de la fuerza, irrespeto a la población, especialmente hacia las mujeres al momento de realizar los allanamientos a sus casas, robos de bienes y dinero durante los registros de los hogares, incluso se habla de la muerte de un menor de edad, como consecuencia de que su madre, al iniciar labor de parto no pudo salir para ser atendida.

Nos preocupa considerablemente la reiteración del uso de la figura del estado de sitio, sobre todo cuando se aprovecha para perseguir y detener a líderes comunitarios, defensores de derechos humanos de sus comunidades. Las comunidades han sido enfáticas a través de consultas comunitarias de buena fe, que el gobierno no ha querido reconocer y que peor aún obvia y concede licencias a proyectos mineros.

Otro elemento que preocupa son las declaraciones dadas por el Ministro de Gobernación Mauricio López Bonilla y el Presidente de la República a medios de comunicación que pretenden confundir y señalan que el estado de sitio se estableció porque en los lugares se realizan actividades de narcotráfico, sicariato, crimen organizado. Señalan que nada tiene que ver el desacuerdo de la población a la minería, pero ya se han realizado varios allanamientos a las viviendas de lideres. A la vez, han hecho señalamientos directos hacia el Parlamento Xinca y hay órdenes de captura para algunos de sus miembros.

López Bonilla afirmó que las personas capturadas hasta el momento no forman parte de estructuras del narcotráfico, pero sí de bandas dedicadas al sicariato, extorsión y otros delitos. Hay más de 40 órdenes de captura vigentes y hasta el momento se han realizado 18 detenciones.

En Santa Rosa y Jalapa, la gran mayoría de los pobladores afectados por el estado de sitio ejercían su derecho de defender su medio ambiente, en el caso de San Rafael las Flores la población realizaba una manifestación pacífica cerca de las instalaciones del proyecto El Escobal, de la Minera San Rafael, S.A., subsidiaria de la empresa canadiense Tahoe Resources.

Manifestamos nuestra preocupación sobre el uso de la militarización y la suspensión de los derechos constitucionales y exhortamos a las autoridades guatemaltecas para que actúen con respeto a los derechos humanos de la población.

Weekly News Round-Up, March 18-25

Day 1 of Genocide Trial
On March 19, 2013, the historic trial opened against Rios Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez. After almost two hours of delays by the Defense, the trial began. The public prosecutor stated that the objective of military operational plans under Ríos Montt was the destruction of the Mayan Ixil population as part of a counter-insurgency campaign that characterized civilians of this ethnic and linguistic minority as an “internal enemy”. Attorney Edgar Pérez rejected assertions that the act of seeking justice is itself an act of terrorism or an effort to destabilize Guatemalan society. Political pressure on the actors involved has been intense, and just before the trial begain, President Otto Perez Molina’s denied that genocide took place. Perez told reporters: “It is important to state it because I lived it: there was no genocide in Guatemala.” Marcie Mersky, Program Director at the International Center for Transitional Justice, says such comments may influence legal proceedings and are inappropriate.

Lolita Chávez participates in month-long speaking tour in Canada and US
In events in Montreal, Ottowa, Vancouver, BC and Washington, DC, Lolita Chavez spoke about the work of the K’iche’ People’s Council and community resistance to harmful transnational development projects. In an interview with Montreal Gazette, Lolita stated that: “Canadian companies are the main protagonists in this invasion that brings only death and destruction.” A short video interview is available here.

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GHRC Condemns Attack against Xinca Leaders in Santa Maria Xalapán

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The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) condemns the killing of Exaltación Marcos, who along with Roberto González, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López, was kidnapped yesterday evening, March 17, by a group of heavily armed men.

The four leaders were abducted while returning home from a good-faith consultation in the El Volcancito community, San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala.

Hours after the abduction, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López managed to escape and reach their community.  They had both been badly beaten. Today, Exaltación Marcos was found dead, with his body displaying signs of physical violence. The Santa María Xalapán community now fears for the life of Roberto González, President of the Xinca Parliament, who is still missing.

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Weekly News Round Up Feb. 23-Mar.5

Constitutional Court upholds case closure for Efraín Bámaca’s disappearance
The Constitutional Court (CC) has confirmed the closure of the criminal case involving the forced disappearance of Efraín Bámaca. In March 2011, Bámaca’s widow, Jennifer Harbury, brought a criminal complaint against then presidential candidate Pérez Molina for his role in her husband’s disappearance and death. Bámaca (alias Comandante Everardo) disappeared in 1992. According to the military, he committed suicide, but Harbury says that he was actually detained, tortured and killed. In December 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to re-investigate the case of Bámaca’s forced disappearance. Harbury’s lawyer has indicated that he will take action against Pérez Molina for not fulfilling the IACHR’s demands for a re-investigation of the case.

Constitutional Court rejects legal action filed by Toto indigenous leaders
The Constitutional Court (CC) unanimously rejected the legal action filed by the 48 cantones of Totonicapán against the Mining Law. The court’s decision called on Congress to regulate consultation with indigenous communities as established in ILO Convention number 169. The plaintiffs argue that the Mining Law was issued when there was still a right to consultation under the ILO convention and therefore the law is unconstitutional because it does not respect that right. The trial against the soldiers who fired on the group of protesters in Totonicapán last year is still ongoing. One of the defense lawyers for the accused soldiers says that he will ask for an acquittal. He says that his clients were motivated by “an overwhelming fear”, and thus they are innocent.

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