Guatemala News Update: March 1-25

Assassinations of Human Rights Defenders

Environmental Activist Killed
A prominent environmental activist, Walter Méndez Barrios, was shot and killed March 16th in Guatemala. He had fought against deforestation and hydroelectric projects within Central America, was part of the Petenero Front against Dams – an organization opposing hydroelectric projects in the Usumacinta River- and led the Association of Forest Communities in Petén. His association released a statement saying that Méndez had been receiving death threats for his work.

The assassination came not long after two environmental activists were killed in Honduras – including world-renowned activist Berta Cáceres – leading to increased criticism of US and Central American plans to build more hydroelectric dams without consultation and to the detriment of local communities.

Radio Station Director Killed
On March 17th, Mario Roberto Salazar Barahona, the director of EstéreoAzúcar in the department of Jutiapa was killed. According to CERIGUA, Salazar had been inside his car after returning from meetings at another radio station when he was shot. Police believe hit men had been following him, yet the motive for the murder is still unknown. Salazar had worked in the field of journalism for over a decade. UNESCO and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have both condemned the attack. They stated, “we reaffirm the absolute need to develop a comprehensive public policy for protection of defenders of human rights, including journalists to enable them to carry out their work in an environment where their security and integrity are guaranteed.”

Transitional Justice Continue reading

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Guatemala News Update: Feb. 22-26

President Jimmy Morales goes to Washington

The Northern Triangle presidents, including Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales, met with Joe Biden this week to discuss the Alliance for Prosperity aid and security package for the region. During the meeting, Biden stated that the United States’ goal in funding the Alliance for Prosperity was to promote regional security as well as development in the three countries. However, critics have argued that the package will actually result in higher levels of poverty and inequality due to the neoliberal economic policies that it promotes.

Central American Caucus Launched

The House of Representatives announced the creation of a Central America caucus to focus on US policy towards the region on Wednesday, February 24.  According to Chairwoman Rep Torres (D- Calif.), the Caucus aims to address problems in the region that have been overlooked in US foreign policy, which, she says, has been focused on “other parts of the world at the expense of the countries just beyond our borders.”

Sepur Zarco: Nobel Laureates attended hearings

RigobertaMenchú and Jody Williams, both Nobel Peace Laureates, as well as members of the Nobel Women’s Initiative attended the High Risk Tribunal for the SepurZarco case as observers. Both laureates have been following the topics of transitional justice and will present their conclusions about the judicial process in a press conference. Next Wednesday Dr. Williams will host the press conference and give details of the situation that she observed in the trial of the Sepur Zarco case and the situation of violence that Guatemalan women confront.

The Case closes today, and sentencing will occur at 5pm EST. Live streaming available at http://www.alianzarompiendoelsilencio.com/

IACHR brings case to Inter-American Court

On February 22 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application to the Inter-American  Court of Human Rights concerning violations committed in relation to international adoptions in Guatemala. The two brothers in this case were taken from their home as young children in 1998, after allegedly being abandoned by their families. The IACHR has determined that the Government carried out no investigation to confirm the children had been abandoned before the children were placed into adoption.

Bringing up the Bodies in Guatemala

This week, Al Jazeera reported on the work of the Forensics Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) in the city of Coban. About a thousand people vanished from this area between 1979 and 1983. The FAFG has been exhumed thousand of victims of the conflict since it’s founding in 1993. This work has provided evidence for trials in the many cases of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

 

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

IACHR hearings and public events: October 19-23

Next week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will hold its 156 period of sessions, including three hearings on October 22 focused on Guatemala: Human Rights and Transitional Justice in Guatemala; Reports of Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders and Justice Operators in Guatemala; and Human Rights Situation of Indigenous Peoples in the Context of the Activities of the Palm Oil Industry of Guatemala. Click here for a full schedule as well as times and locations for each hearing.

There will also be numerous opportunities to attend public events and hear from human rights defenders from Central America:

*GHRC-Sponsored Events*

PUBLIC EVENT: THE RIGHT TO DECIDE – STORIES FROM LATIN AMERICAN COMMUNITIES IMPACTED BY EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES
Panelists from Guatemala and El Salvador will discuss the recent struggles of communities in both countries in defense of their land, water and livelihoods that are threatened by mining.

Time and Date: Tuesday, October 20 | 1-2 PM EST
Location: Oxfam America, DC, 1101 17th St NW 1300 Washington, DC 20036

PUBLIC EVENT: “CORRUPTION AND HUMAN RIGHTS”
Representatives from civil society organizations from Honduras and Guatemala will discuss the situation of corruption and human rights in both countries. The event will be in Spanish, and a live stream will be available here: http://ustre.am/1iq8N.

Corruption-Event-Oct20

Time and Date: Tuesday, October 20 | 7 PM EST
Location: CEJIL, 1630 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 2009


-Monday, October 19-

FILM: “Resistencia: The Fight for The Aguan Valley”
DC Premiere of a groundbreaking documentary with the filmmaker in attendance about the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras sparking a landless farmers’ movement that took control of the plantations. Cost: $10. More information.

Time and Date: Monday, October 19 | 7-9 PM EST
Location: West End Cinema, 2301 M Street NW, Washington, DC


-Tuesday, October 20-

BRIEFING: CORRUPTION, IMPUNITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN HONDURAS
As corruption scandals continue to erupt in Honduras—including confirmed evidence that millions were siphoned off from the national health service to fund the ruling party’s and the president’s election fund—Hondurans across the political spectrum are demanding an independent, UN-sponsored Commission on Impunity, like the successful CICIG in Guatemala.

Time and Date: Tuesday, October 20 | 2-3 PM EST
Location: 122 Cannon HOB


-Wednesday, October 21-

PUBLIC EVENT: THE IMPACT OF DRUG POLICY ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE AMERICAS

RSVP here.

Time and Date: Wednesday, October 21 | 12:30 – 2 PM EST
Location: Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), 1666 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20009

WOLA IACHR RECEPTION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
An opportunity to meet and honor human rights defenders from Latin America.
More information and RSVP here.

Time and Date: Wednesday, October 21 | 5:30 – 7 PM EST
Location:
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), 1666 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20009


-Thursday, October 22-

THE BRAZIL PLAN OF ACTION: CHALLENGES AND SUCCESSES OF CIVIL SOCIETY
More information here. RSVP with Perri Ravon at pravon@cejil.org.

Time and Date: Thursday, October 22 | 12:15-2 PM EST
Location: CEJIL, 1630 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 2009

GUATEMALA-THEMED HEARINGS AT THE IACHR
More information here
.

Time and Date: Thursday, October 22 | 4-7:15 PM EST (various sessions)
Location:
Organization of American States, 1889 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20006 (Padilha Vidal room)

FILM SCREENING: IXCANUL
This movie, made by Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante, tells the story of a young indigenous woman who does not want to live in the modern world, until it saves her life during a pregnancy complication. Free and open to the public.

Time and Date: Thursday, October 22 | 6:30 PM EST
Location:
Enrique V. Iglesias Auditorium, 1350 New York Avenue, NW., Washington, DC. Metro Center

LIVE STREAMING PARTY: NISGUA’s “Tahoe On Trial” NYC Event
Viewing party to live stream the NISGUA tour event in New York City.

Time and Date: Thursday, October 22 | 6-8 PM EST
Location:
CIEL Conference Room: 1350 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 1100 (Above the Dupont Circle South Metro, DC)


-Friday, October 23-

BRIEFING: Defending Community and Indigenous Rights in Guatemala
Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a briefing on defending community and indigenous rights in Guatemala, with panelists Daniel Pascual (CUC) and Rafael Maldonado (CALAS).

Time and Date: Friday, October 23 | 11 AM EST
Location:
2255 Rayburn House Office Building

Guatemala News Update: May 11-15

Guatemala Gets New VP in Wake of Tax Fraud Scandal

On May 14, Alejandro Maldonado was named as Guatemala’s new vice president following the resignation of Roxana Baldetti amid the revelation of a tax fraud scandal. On May 15, Erick Archila, head of Guatemala’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, also resigned due to what he called “political persecution.” Archila was summoned to appear this morning before a congressional commission investigating allegations of corruption against him, but refused to appear.

Meanwhile, citizens have continued to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and will move forward with another wave of national protests set for Saturday, May 16.

In Washington, DC, the Mayan League is also organizing people to gather in front of the White House at 10 am in an expression of solidarity with the thousands in Guatemala demanding an end to corruption and impunity.

Guatemala Ex-police Chief Loses Appeal Against Life Sentence

Ex-police chief Erwin Sperisen’s attempt to appeal a life sentence has been struck down by a Swiss court. Sperisen — who also has Swiss nationality — was found guilyy last year in Switzerland of killing seven prisoners in a jail in his home country of Guatemala. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: April 20 – May 1

CICIG Mandate to be Extended

On Thursday, April 27, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina announced his decision to extend the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) for two more years. The UN commission, which began its work in 2007, is charged with helping state institutions investigate and tackle corruption and organized crime in Guatemala.

The extension of the CICIG had been under debate for months, and the final decision was made in the midst of a recent political crisis related to a CICIG investigation into a tax fraud ring involving at least 20 top government officials. The commission’s extension has been applauded by several Guatemalan groups as well as actors in the international community, including the US government.

Read more about the decision on the GHRC blog.

Thousands in Guatemala Demand Resignation of Top Officials

In the wake of a tax corruption scandal, thousands of Guatemalans marched to demand the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. President Pérez Molina told reporters that he has supported the fraud investigation and does not intend to resign.

One of the officials implicated in the scandal is Juan Carlos Monzón, the personal secretary for Vice President Baldetti. As the case made headlines in Guatemala, Baldetti and Monzón were traveling in South Korea to attend a “private academic activity.” Baldetti reportedly received news of her secretary’s involvement in the crime while in South Korea, after which she fired him and “exhorted” him to return to Guatemala. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: March 16-27

Criminalization of Land Rights Leaders Persists in Huehuetenango

On March 24, two indigenous and land rights leaders from Santa Eulalia — Rigoberto Juárez Mateo and Domingo Baltazar — were detained in Guatemala City. The arrests were related to a community struggle to defend a local radio station which had reported on planned hydroelectric projects as well as corruption of local authorities, and was shut down by municipal authorities in January.

In a separate case, GHRC staff member Dania Rodríguez attended a hearing on March 26 for six leaders from Barillas who have been opposing another hydroelectric dam project in the area — the Hidro Santa Cruz dam. Although the company has retracted many of the original accusations, the leaders remain charged with the crime of kidnapping. The case is set to conclude on April 8.

These events are part of a larger pattern of repression and increasing criminalization of activists by the Pérez Molina administration in order to support large-scale development projects. In this context, two activists have been killed, and GHRC is calling on Guatemala’s Attorney General to initiate an investigation into the deaths. Sign the petition now.

Hearings on Guatemala During IACHR 154th Session

Last week, during the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) 154th session, a hearing was held on the impacts of extractive industries in Latin America. During the hearing, members of the Catholic Church presented emblematic cases of human rights violations resulting from extractive projects in the region. More information on the hearing is available here.

Petitioners from the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and the Myrna Mack Foundation also addressed the IACHR regarding judicial independence in Guatemala. Continue reading