Guatemala News Update: Jan. 30-Feb. 5

Oscar Mejía Víctores, former head of state accused of genocide, dies under house arrest
Oscar Mejía Víctores died Monday morning at the age of 85. He was the head of State of Guatemala between 1983 and 1986, taking power through a coup d’état that ousted his predecessor Jose Efraín Ríos Montt. Under his leadership, the government forcibly disappeared over 600 people and killed thousand of indigenous. He had been under house arrest since 2011 for accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity during his tenure as the head of State.

Guatemala Supreme Court Rules Against Lifting Congressman’s Immunity
The Guatemalan Supreme Court has denied prosecutors’ request to lift the immunity of Congressman and presidential advisor Edgar Justino Ovalle, on the basis of insufficient evidence. As a public official, he has immunity from prosecution. He has been accused of human rights abuses during his tenure as a military officer during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict war.

First Week of Sepur Zarco Trial Underway
The trial against a military officer and a military commissioner began Feb. 1. The men are charged with crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual and domestic slavery, as well as forced disappearance of indigenous villagers during Guatemala’s internal conflict. International observers have been blogging daily about the trial at the International Justice Monitor and Breaking the Silence.

Nickel company announces new mining project in Baja Verapaz
The Canadian company CVMR Corporation and Central American Nickel Inc. have announced a partnership to mine 3 million tons of mineral ore each year in Santa Anita located in Baja Verapaz which is considered to be one of the largest, untapped reserves of Nickel in existence. From Guatemala, the ore will be shipped to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to be refined. The project is not far from Rio Negro and the 33 communities displaced and massacred during the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric dam project. Another nickel mine operating in the neighboring department of Izabal is responsible for acts of violence, including a murder and the gang rape of 11 women by security forces.

New Law for Missing Women Passed in Guatemala
A law was passed on January 29th that establishes the ability to immediately search for missing women. At least 4,500 women have been reported missing over the last two years, and according to Congresswoman Sandra Moran, law enforcement often does not respond immediately when a woman goes missing. This law, the result of the combined efforts of many women’s rights organization, hopes to curb the incidence of kidnapping women for forced labor or prostitution.

Growing concern over treatment of Central American refugees
On Feb. 4, 34 Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to express concern over the treatment and safety of deported Central American families in response to the recent raids.Many of these families may qualify for special accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, protections that were not taken into account during the raids. The Members of Congress call for a suspension of raids, more careful review and screening of cases, among other changes to DHS protocols.

Bill in support of Community Radio up for vote in Guatemalan Congress
The Community Media Bill 4087 aims to legalize community radio within Guatemala. Current telecommunications laws do not allow for the municipalities to create or have access to non-profit licenses for community radios. Without a public radio system, communities cannot easily distribute important news and educational programming information such as emergency disaster relief, voter registration, and public health campaigns broadcast in their native language. Originally introduced to the Congress in 2009, the bill had been stalled up to February 2 when the first reading of the bill took place. The vote on Bill 4087 could take place as soon as February 9th.

Guatemala News Update: November 17-28

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court Upholds Controversial Selection of Judges

In a 3-2 ruling, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court upheld the appointments of more than 100 of the country’s new Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges, despite serious concerns about corruption in the nomination process. Civil society groups have voiced strong objections to the appointments, calling for the nomination process to be repeated from the beginning.

Residents in Disagreement over Hydroelectric Project

The town of Pojom in San Mateo Ixtatán, Huehuetenango is divided over a hydroelectric project, as some residents are in favor of the dam while others oppose it.

So far, there have been at least two deaths and two injuries resulting from the conflict. The villagers of Pojom are now asking the government to build a police station in the town as a way to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. The National Civil Police have been unable to investigate these deaths thus far as access to the village is blocked by opponents to the dam.

According to Andrés Bernabé, a community leader, it is a lack of government control in the zone that has led to the recent violence. A government employee stated that the National Civil Police will most likely be used to reestablish order in the area.

Farmers End Highway Blockade

On November 14, campesino groups in Guatemala decided to end a three-day blockade of main highways and roads throughout the country. The blockade resulted in one death, nine police injuries and sixteen arrests. In addition, the blockade allegedly caused substantial economic losses and damages. The Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce claims that around $6.5 million was lost for each day of the blockade.

The Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) organized the highway blockade as a way to show support for the Rural Development Law and to motivate Congress to act. This law, which would benefit farmers immensely, has remained on the table in Congress since 2005. They also demanded the repeal of the Telecommunications Law, which permits companies to build communications towers on public and private land.

Immigration and President Obama

In a speech on November 20, President Obama discussed his plans to reform immigration in the United States. Obama plans to use an executive action to prioritize the deportation of criminals and recent arrivals, while granting temporary legal status to those who have lived in the United States for more than five years as well as to parents of citizens and legal residents. These actions could shield up to 5 million immigrants from being deported.

Earlier in the week, it was also announced that the US is establishing an in-country refugee program in three Central American countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. This program, set to begin in December 2014, will provide a “safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey” to the United States by allowing parents legally present in the United States to request refugee admission for children and spouses still in Central America.


Guatemala News Update: October 6 – 10

Request to Lift “State of Prevention”

Residents of San Juan Sacatepéquez are requesting that the government lift the “state of prevention.” There is extreme tension between soldiers and civilians; soldiers are intimidating children, and some offer them candy in exchange for the names of their parents or the whereabouts of people the Public Ministry is searching for.

Supreme Court Asked to Take Action on Nominations

Human rights ombudsman Jorge de León Duque has demanded that the Constitutional Court take action in order to resolve the controversy surrounding the recent selection of thirteen judges. Claudia Escobar, a judge from the Fifth Circuit of Appeals, has also renounced the elections. Some minority sections of Congress are asking that the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala investigate, though the organization has yet to receive a formal request.

No Respect for Human Life

Archbishop Óscar Julio Vian Morales claims Guatemala has no respect for human life, speaking in light of recent violent incidents, such as the kidnapping and murder of a ten year-old girl named Dulce Velásquez. To combat rising violence, Vian proposes a better education system and the cultivation of values in children.

Halt in Adoptions May Be Fueling Border Surge

In 2008, Guatemala halted all adoption proceedings. Before this, about 4,000 children a year were adopted by American parents. Some experts are saying that this halt is contributing to the recent surge of migrant children to the United States. Advocates point out that if adoptions had not been halted, many of these children risking their lives en route to the United States could have been legally adopted in the first place. In the United States, these children face detention centers and deportation, while in Guatemala, they face poverty and exploitation by gangs.

Mexican Raids Resume

Mexico has resumed raids against the influx of Central American immigrants crossing its borders in order to reach the United States.

Guatemala News Update: August 11-15

Agreement to construct hydroelectric project leads to violent eviction

An agreement signed between the mining company Hidro Santa Rita and President Otto Pérez Molina on July 30 resulted in a violent eviction in Monte Olivo, Cobán, Alta Verapaz. As a result of the eviction and subsequent protests, 24 people were arrested, six police officers injured, and three people died. There was reportedly no consultation with the communities that would be affected by the project’s installation.

Another Goldcorp crime is exposed

An interview with a woman by the alias of “Doña A” recounts the alleged 2009 murder of her husband by employees of the Marlin Mine in Northwest Guatemala. Her husband informed neighboring communities about the negative effects the mine would have and also helped organize a community referendum. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: July 28-August 1

Another threat to the peaceful resistance of La Puya

At 2 a.m. on July 31 in San José del Golfo, employees of Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) and Mining Explorations of Guatemala (EXMINGUA) tried to enter the El Tambor mining site, destroying spaces the San José del Golfo community had been using for cooking, meetings, and celebrations in the process. The workers were trying to move three vans and heavy equipment used for washing minerals onto the site, and at 8:24 am were joined by 200 police officers who threatened the residents of San José del Golfo with eviction if they did not allow the workers to enter the site. The peaceful resistance of La Puya eventually withdrew without using force around 11 a.m. and let the machinery pass onto the site to avoid violence.

Guatemalan Court rules in favor of Sipacapa residents against Goldcorp subsidiary

On March 24 the Mayan Council of Sipacapa demanded that the “Los Chocoyos” mining permit, which was granted to the Goldcorp Inc. subsidiary Entre Mares de Guatemala S.A. by the General Director of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, be canceled. Last Friday, July 18, a Guatemalan court ruled in favor of the residents of Sipacapa and declared that the Guatemalan government must consult with the local population before granting any kind of mining permits, in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and ILO 169. Continue reading

GHRC participates in TASSC Annual Survivors’ Week

TASSC-buttonMembers of the GHRC team were honored to attend the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) 17th Annual Survivors’ Week last month. The event provided an opportunity to stand in solidarity with TASSC’s mission to end torture as well as to empower survivors of torture.

Sister Dianna Ortiz, a survivor of torture in Guatemala, originally started TASSC as a GHRC program in 1998. TASSC has since expanded to become an independent organization that carries out impressive advocacy and assistance work. In the words of one survivor, “I arrived in the United States less than 10 months ago and TASSC has provided me with so much support. I would never have imagined that I would be meeting with a member of the United States government to tell my story and advocate on behalf of survivors.”

The TASSC Survivors’ Week week consisted of presentations, testimony from torture survivors, advocacy outreach on Capitol Hill (including 26 congressional meetings), and a concluding vigil in front of the White House.

At the Opening Session, GHRC team members and 115 other participants learned more about addressing torture worldwide. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, warned that impunity is the greatest enemy of the anti-torture movement and serves as an invitation for torture to continue. He also explained that while torture and genocide conventions emphasize the prevention of torture, they frequently do not give specific recommendations. Thus, it is important to remember that it is the individual state that holds the most responsibility in implementing prevention mechanisms. Méndez also discussed how reparations themselves are not enough; survivors need to be given a part in creating their own rehabilitation programs.

Speakers also presented on inhumane immigration detention policies here in the US. Yohanes Birhane, of TASSC, described the ways in which Border Patrol facilities employ methods of psychological torture against individuals apprehended after entering the US irregularly. Detainees are often placed in “ice boxes” — very cold rooms with no amenities — and frequently sleep on the floor, have no access to a shower, have limited access to toilet paper and sanitary items, are denied adequate food and may face other degradations. Border patrol personnel frequently tell detainees that they will only be allowed to leave if they sign expedited removal papers that may be provided in English only. While many individuals have suffered these conditions, survivors are reluctant to give testimony because they fear that to do so may impact their legal status. Birhane therefore appealed to American citizens to advocate on behalf of detainees and to support S1817 and HR3130, two bills that address degrading treatment at the border.

More information about TASSC is available here.


Guatemala News Update June 29 – July 3

Guatemalan officials visit the US

This week Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, along with other Central American officials, spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry regarding their concerns for the unaccompanied minors arriving in the US. President Molina reportedly said there can be no unilateral decisions—that all the countries must work together—and Guatemalan ambassador Julio Ligorría added that the officials must also work to address the root causes of migration.

Guatemala’s First Lady, Rosa Leal, wife of President Otto Pérez Molina, also visited border patrol stations this week in Tucson and Nogales.

In addition, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Oscar Padilla, visited a military base in California where unaccompanied minor migrants are being held. He reportedly spoke to them about the dangers of traveling from Guatemala to the US unaccompanied, such as sexual assault, labor exploitation, and even death. Padilla said the conditions the children are being held under are “very good, the facilities are well distributed so the minors can receive very good care.”

Unaccompanied minor found dead

The body of 15-year-old Gilberto Ramos was found in brush in La Joya, Texas on Monday, June 30. Originally from San Jose Las Flores, Huehuetenango, his mother said that his motive for migrating to the US was to earn money to pay for her epilepsy treatment. He was accompanied by a coyote who charged the family $5,400—a portion of which they still owe. Once Gilberto reached Texas he reportedly phoned home to have his parents deposit an installment of the payment and it is presumed that shortly after the coyote abandoned him and he died of heat exposure.

Guatemalan Commission on Migrants declared to be in permanent session

The Legislative Commission on Migrants declared itself in permanent session to discuss the current migration situation and create public policy that favors migrants.

Public Ministry asks that ex-guerrilla Solano Barillas get 690 years in prison

The Guatemalan Public Ministry is asking that Fermín Felipe Solano Barillas be sentenced to 690 years in prison for his role in the El Aguacate Massacre. His trial is the first ever to hold a guerrilla accountable for a massacre perpetrated during the internal armed conflict.

Network of former soldiers has strong presence in Guatemalan government

Security experts are noting the reformation of military circles in various Guatemalan institutions and are arguing that the President’s affiliation with the military has opened the doors for retired soldiers to hold important positions in government and other institutions. For example, the current Interior Minister of Guatemala, Mauricio López Bonilla, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel.

March in protest of National Army Day

About 500 human rights activists and indigenous peoples marched in Guatemala City to reject the commemoration of National Army Day. The rejection was in remembrance of the human rights atrocities committed by the Guatemalan Army during the internal armed conflict, and participants also called for the reinstatement of Efraín Ríos Montt’s 80-year genocide sentence.

Complaint filed against Hidralia Energia

On June 27 a complaint was filed by various indigenous organizations to the Human Rights Ombudsman denouncing the occupation of ancestral land without consent, threats, the use of landmines, serious gunshot injuries to two people, the illegal detention of at least 17 people, and more, that were committed by Hidralia Energia. The organizations argue that Spain, the owner of the hydroelectric project, should be held responsible for funding the project without requiring prior consultation with the communities that would be affected.

Guatemala News Update: June 16-20

Lawsuit filed against Tahoe Resources

A lawsuit is being filed against Tahoe Resources in relation to the violence that occurred during a 2013 peaceful protest at the Escobal silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores. The mine’s security guards are being accused by seven Guatemalans of attacking them and critically injuring Luis Fernando García Monroy after shooting him three times, once in the face. The lawsuit also accuses Tahoe’s Chief of Security in Guatemala, Alberto Rotondo, of various crimes, including ordering the attack on the peaceful protestors, fabricating a story that the demonstrators attacked mine employees, and arranging the tampering of evidence. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 9-13

Community opposition to Xalalá Dam

On June 7, 500 local leaders rejected the authorization of project feasibility studies for the Xalalá hydroelectric project. Cristian Otzín, lawyer for the communities, has announced that they will present a legal challenge to the project based on the failure to respect the process of prior consent, failure to respect the right to life, and anomalies in the project contract.

In a meeting with President Molina, the Executive Council of the Guatemalan Confederation of Cooperative Federations (Confecoop) expressed their interest in investing in the Xalalá dam, as long as the surrounding communities approve and want to be involved. Government officials and Confecoop will meet again in six months to evaluate the project’s development.

In related news, local residents removed a roadblock they had maintained since Monday to protest the construction of a hydroelectric project in their community of Camotán, Chiquimula. Continue reading

Holiday News Round-Up

Happy New Year everyone! We hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are looking forward to an exciting new year. The GHRC news briefs are starting up again with the following summary covering some of the more significant and important stories from the previous week, bringing us all up to speed on current events in Guatemala.

National News

  • Rubén Herrera, a Guatemalan notary and lawyer, has been appointed by Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz as the new Special Attorney against Impunity (FECI), which is responsible for expediting cases of high impact and advancing the fight against impunity in Guatemala.
  • According to statistics released by the National Institute of Forensic Science (Inacif), Guatemala suffered an average of 17 violent deaths per day in 2011, with a total of 6,187 assassinations.  Even though these numbers represent a 7.4% reduction in violent deaths from 2010, those that occurred in 2011 were performed with more brutality and cruelty.  The Minister of the Interior has indicated that over 60% of assassinations in Guatemala are related to drug cartels, gangs and organized crime groups.  The PNC reports different statistics, with 5,618 homicides in 2011 and an average of 15.5 per day.  Central American Politics also covers the release of the homicide rates.

International News

  • HablaGuate blog has published an interview with Jean-Marie Simon, author of the book, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny, recently republished in Spanish. Listen here.