Guatemala News Update February 9-13

Former Dictator Ríos Montt Could Stand Trial for Dos Erres Massacre

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court declared on February 6 that former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt could be prosecuted for the “Dos Erres” massacre. Nearly 300 people were murdered in 1982 in the village of Dos Erres by the Guatemalan military’s special forces, the Kaibile, under the de facto administration of Ríos Montt.

Obama’s Central America Rescue Plan Will Only Make Life There Worse

This article argues that the “Alliance for Prosperity” plan, which promotes economic development in Central America as a mechanism to curb migration, could have adverse effects in the region. By promoting spending on infrastructure and foreign investment, the plan could actually exasperate the problems that vulnerable local communities face when dealing with rapid macroeconomic development. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: November 3-7

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Admonishes Guatemalan Government

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded its session of hearings with, among other things, a strongly worded admonishment of the Guatemalan government. The Commission stated it was “deeply concerned about the authorities’ denial of genocide and the position the State delegation took in the hearings, in which it defended the application of amnesty to grave human rights violations.” The statement also expressed concern about Guatemala’s lack of recognition of judgments from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, saying it constituted “an act of defiance.”

Over 18 cases from Guatemala have been brought through the Commission to the Court, for the State violation of protections enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights. A recent resolution by the Court found Guatemala to be in contempt of court for lack of compliance with 11 sentences relating to human rights violations during the internal armed conflict.

Agreement Published to Give Reparations to Families of Chixoy Dam Case

On November 6, 2014, the Journal of Central America published the agreement to give reparations to families affected by the Chixoy hydroelectric dam built in the 1980s. 1,200 million Quetzals will be provided to different municipalities in Quiché, Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz by 2029. Continue reading

Fashion Faux Pas? Free Trade and Sweatshop Labor in Guatemala

By Cyril Mychalejko

*Article originally published in Truthout.

Free trade agreements have not delivered promised protections to workers, as the case of Guatemalan sweatshop labor illustrates.

Juana, a 37-year-old single mother of two teenage sons, worked at a sweatshop in Guatemala that supplied clothes to more than 60 US retailers for four years.

“It was just enough to survive,” said Juana of the $1.05 hourly base wage she received at the factory. “When they paid for extra hours, one could get more resources. But it is not enough for education, housing, health, food and clothing. One does not live well with that wage. You need someone else in the family to be working, too.”

She is one of more than 1,000 mostly indigenous Mayan workers who were exploited and robbed at the Alianza Fashion Factory in the Department of Chimaltenango making garments for brands such as Macy’s, Walmart, JCPenney and Kohl’s. A worker such as Juana would have to work for more than 9,776 years to earn the $33.7 million JCPenney CEO Myron E. Ullman III made in 2012. JCPenney was Alianza’s top client in 2011.

report published in January by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and the Center for Studies and Support for Local Development (CEADEL) offers a detailed case study of the corruption, abuse and shameless profiteering that often exemplify the global supply chain, demonstrating that globalization and “free trade” do not “lift all boats” but instead build more yachts for the 1%.

“Over the last 12 years, the Alianza workers were robbed of over $6 million in wages and benefits due them, most significantly health and pension benefits through the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS),” the report states.

During those 12 years, the report estimates that more than 52 million garments were produced for export. Retailers have marked up the price from the cost of production of items as much as 550 percent.

Bong Choon Park Seo, the South Korean owner of the factory, closed Alianza in March 2013 and is being sought by the Guatemalan government, although critics question how resolutely. In the 12 years that Park owned the factory he changed its legal name four times to avoid taxes and pocket the millions of dollars of stolen wages. Continue reading

GHRC Denounces Closure of Peace Archives Directorate in Guatemala // GHRC denuncia clausura de la Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz

[en espanol abajo]

The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA expresses extreme concern at the Guatemalan Government’s announcement that it is closing down the Peace Archives Directorate of the Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ) and dissolving its investigative team, effectively canceling their projects to publish historical reports and denying future contributions to criminal investigations.

The work of the Peace Archives Directorate (Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz, DAP) has been integral to ongoing efforts to institutionalize the peace process and promote transitional justice, and has contributed greatly to the public’s access to truth and historic memory.

The Directorate’s investigative researchers and their reports have provided key evidence for human rights prosecutions, such as the military chain of command at times when the army committed massacres, torture and forced disappearances. Recently, Archive staff were called upon to provide expert testimony in emblematic cases such as the Genocide Case brought against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.

Created in 2008, the Directorate´s mandate is to “receive, analyze, classify, compile and digitalize military archives in order to establish human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict”, recognizing explicitly that “the clarification of historic truth has been part of the Guatemalan peace process given that it contributes to the dignification of victims” of the conflict. In 2009, the mandate was expanded to include documents from other Government offices that could help establish human rights violations.

In only four years, the office has digitalized more than two million documents and published nine books that analyze themes such as the Presidential General Staff (Estado Mayor Presidencial, or EMP), illegal adoptions, the Military Diary (el Diario Militar), and the labor rights movement.

Nevertheless, the Secretary of Peace, Antonio Arenales Forno, announced on May 31 that the investigation and analysis provided by the archive is not reason to maintain the entity, saying: “Today the decision was made to eliminate the Directorate, canceling contracts for which I find no justification and the functioning of an office I find makes no sense.” The focus of the Peace Archives, he maintained, should be on providing information for the National Reparations Program, not on investigating the military, an erroneous justification given that the dignification of victims through the clarification of the truth is considered an important element of reparations.

Since January, when retired General Pérez Molina assumed the presidency, 23 staff members of the Directorate have been dismissed, including the former director Marco Tulio Alvarez. In April, five technical archival experts were let go, and on May 28, 17 investigators and other experts were notified that their contracts had been prematurely terminated. Members of the SEPAZ union, SITRASEPAZ, have denounced the firings as illegal under existing procedural guidelines.

The closure will also terminate an existing agreement of cooperation between the Peace Archives and the Public Prosecutor’s Office and will impede the Archive’s contribution to criminal investigations into human rights violations. Furthermore, the comments of Arenales Forno demonstrate not only a lack of respect for victims of the internal armed conflict, but a genuine threat to their right to truth and justice.

By dismantling the entity designed to oversee and manage the entirety of documents pertaining to human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict, Secretary Arenales Forno and President Pérez Molina will extinguish an invaluable contribution to the preservation of historic memory and to the State´s obligations under the Peace Accords, at the same time obstructing efforts to investigate the military for egregious human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission calls on the Guatemalan government to:

  • Strengthen, not weaken, the Peace Archives Directorate and respect its important role in promoting transitional justice;
  • Reestablish formal collaboration and inter-governmental agreements that were terminated between the Directorate and the Public Prosecutor’s Office;
  • Reinstate any worker whose contract has been illegally terminated;
  • Explain the fate of the digital archives maintained by the Directorate and the public reading room;
  • Clarify and make transparent the plans to restructure SEPAZ, the National Reparations Program (PNR) and the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH).

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Washington, DC
June 4, 2012


La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Estados Unidos (GHRC) expresa su profunda preocupación por el anuncio del Gobierno de Guatemala de clausurar la Dirección del los Archivos de la Paz de la Secretaria de la Paz (SEPAZ) y desarticular su equipo de investigación, efectivamente anulando sus proyectos de publicaciones de informes históricos y de la memoria histórica y negando futuras contribuciones a investigaciones criminales.

El trabajo de la Dirección del los Archivos de la Paz (DAP) ha sido integral en los continuos esfuerzos para institucionalizar el proceso de paz y justicia transicional y ha aportado grandes contribuciones al acceso público a la verdad y la memoria histórica.

Los investigadores de la DAP y sus publicaciones han brindado evidencia clave en juicios de derechos humanos, así como sobre la cadena de mando del Ejército en tiempos en los que cometió masacres, tortura y desapariciones forzadas. Recientemente, personal de la DAP fue citado a dar testimonio como perito en casos emblemáticos como el caso de genocidio contra el ex dictador Efraín Ríos Montt.

Creada en 2008, la DAP tiene el mandato de “recibir, analizar, clasificar, compilar y digitalizar archivos militares con el fin de establecer violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidas durante el conflicto armado interno”, reconociendo explícitamente que “el esclarecimiento de la verdad histórica ha sido parte del proceso de paz guatemalteco y que contribuye a la dignificación de las víctimas” del conflicto. En 2009, el mandato fue ampliado para incluir documentos de otras instituciones del Estado que pudieran tener información sobre violaciones a los derechos humanos.

Tan solo durante cuatro años, la oficina ha digitalizado más de dos millones de documentos y ha publicado nueve libros que analizan temas como el Estado Mayor Presidencial, adopciones ilegales, el Diario Militar y el movimiento sindical.

Sin embargo, el Secretario de la Paz, Antonio Arenales Forno, anunció el 31 de mayo que la investigación y análisis que se lleva a cabo en la DAP no es suficiente motivo para mantener la entidad con vida, diciendo que: “Hoy por hoy se tomó la decisión de eliminar la Dirección, cancelando contratos por los que no encuentro justificación y la función de una dirección a la que no le encuentro sentido”. El enfoque de la DAP, insistió Arenales Forno, debe ser en proveer información para el Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, no en investigar el ejército, una justificación errónea ya que la dignificación de las victimas a través del esclarecimiento de la verdad es considerada una forma importante de resarcimiento.

Desde enero, cuando asumió la presidencia el general retirado Otto Pérez Molina, 23 empleados de la DAP han sido despedidos, incluyendo el entonces Director, Marco Tulio Alvarez. En abril, cinco técnicos archivistas fueron destituidos y el 28 de mayo, 17 investigadores y otros expertos fueron notificados que se había rescindido sus contratos antes de tiempo. Miembros del sindicato de SEPAZ, SITRASEPAZ, han denunciado los despidos como ilegales según los procedimientos legales correspondientes.

La clausura también termina con un convenio de cooperación vigente entre la DAP y el Ministerio Público e impedirá que el Archivo aporte información para procesos penales por violaciones a derechos humanos. Además, los comentarios de Arenales Forno demuestran no sólo una falta de respeto para las víctimas del conflicto armado interno, sino también una amenaza real a su derecho de conocer la verdad y se haga justicia.

Al desmantelar la entidad diseñada para supervisar y administrar la totalidad de los documentos relacionados con las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas durante el conflicto armado interno, Secretario Arenales Forno y el Presidente Pérez Molina extinguirán una contribución invalorable a la preservación de la memoria histórica y al cumplimiento de los Acuerdos de Paz, a la vez que obstaculizan los esfuerzos para investigar al ejército por las violaciones atroces de derechos humanos y crímenes de lesa humanidad.

La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala insta al Gobierno de Guatemala a:

  • Fortalecer, en vez de debilitar, la Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz y respetar su papel importante en impulsar un proceso de justicia transicional;
  • Restablecer la colaboración formal y los compromisos inter-gubernativos rescindidos entre la DAP y el Ministerio Público;
  • Reincorporar cualquier trabajador cuyo contrato fue rescindido de forma ilegal;
  • Explicar el destino de los archivos digitales administrados por la DAP y el del salón de lectura;
  • Clarificar y transparentar los planes para reestructurar la SEPAZ, el Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento (PNR) y la Comisión Presidencial Coordinadora de la Política del Ejecutivo en materia de Derechos Humanos (COPREDEH).

Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Estados Unidos
Washington, DC
4 de junio de 2012

Weekly News Roundup

April 27th– May 3rd

  • Human rights organizations protest against Canadian mining company. On April 27th a group of thirty activists of human rights organizations protested Goldcorp’s mining operations in Toronto while the company was holding its Annual General Meeting in Timmins, Ontario. The protesters hoped to raise awareness of the company’s human rights abuses and environmental violations. The mine has been criticized locally and internationally for contaminating water sources; condoning intimidation, threats and attacks against community members; disregarding community referendums and international regulations, among other abuses.
  • Thousands of workers participate in International Workers’ Day marches on May 1st. Echoing the demands of previous campesino and union marches this month, the International Workers’ Day marchers demanded an end to militarization and exploitative mining projects and criticized the decision by Congress to freeze further dialogue concerning the rural development law. They also asked for higher salaries and an end to high levels of impunity. According to Carlos Contreras, Guatemala’s Employment Minister, seven out of ten companies violate labor rights. In the first months of 2012 more than 4,000 complaints of labor violations have been sent to the Department of Labor.
  • Guatemala declares state of siege in Huehuetenango on May 1st. Interior Secretary Mauricio Lopez Bonilla sent a contingent of 100 military and 160 police forces to Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango to “restore order” after a group of 200 men armed with machetes and guns took over a military base in the area. Security forces arrested nine men involved in the mob after the declaration of the siege. That same afternoon, one community member was assassinated, and two others injured, in attacks by armed men with apparent links to the companyThe village of Santa Cruz Barillas has outspokenly protested against the construction of the hydroelectric company and denounced the lack of consultation. The community is calling for a suspension of the company’s license.  According to Interior Secretary Mauricio Lopez Bonilla the riots were started by a group of intoxicated men who had been celebrating the La Cruz festival. President Perez Molina justified the state of siege on the grounds that the rioters were accomplices of drug traffickers. Human rights and peasant organizations repudiate the state of siege.
  • Former police officer to stand trial for his involvement in Spanish Embassy fire in 1980. On the day of the fire, January 31st 1980, the Embassy was stormed by indigenous protestors who wanted to inform the world about human rights abuses committed during the internal armed conflict. Former police officer Pedro Garcia Arredondo is accused of keeping firefighters from extinguishing the fire and ignoring the ambassador’s plead to withdraw his forces.
  • 5,708 remains of victims of the internal armed conflict unearthed. Juan de Dios Garcia, representative of Adivima, confirms that the exhumation of victims’ remains helps to push the Public Prosecutor’s Office to move forward with their investigations of the massacres, and to bring justice to the victims and their families. He also mentions that finding the remains of the disappeared gives family members the peace of mind to know where their loved ones are and enables them to carry out a proper burial in keeping with cultural traditions.
  • Candidates for the position of the Human Rights Ombudsman summoned to hearing. Candidates were asked to respond to questions and concerns from civil society groups. Most questions were directed towards the current Ombudsman Sergio Morales. The next step in the election process will be a forum discussion to be held May 11. Civil society organization released a public call to the Congressional Commission for Human Rights asking for an evaluation of the immediate necessities of the Office of the Ombudsman to strengthen the institution. With regards to the election of the Ombudsman, they recommend considering candidates whose defense of human rights, academic background, honesty and impartiality have sustained national and international acclaim.

Guatemalans ‘Presente’ during the May Day march

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“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!