Guatemala News Update: December 1-5

Families Evicted from the Polochic Valley Call for Housing and Relocation

In March of 2011, 769 families were violently evicted from their homes in the Polochic Valley to make way for the sugar cane company Chabil Utzaj. This week, representatives from The Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) presented a letter to President Otto Pérez Molina asking that the government honor its promise to relocate all the families. In addition, several international organizations have also been pressuring the government to fulfill its prior agreement to compensate the evicted families.

So far, only 140 families have been given land. The other 629 are still waiting without access to basic public services, food, and other necessities.

One day after receiving the letter, the government announced that it will buy two more plots of land to distribute to 250 more families in March of 2015. The remaining 379 families are slated to receive land sometime later in 2015.

Rodríguez Under House Arrest

Guatemala’s High Risk Court has accepted the petition of José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez — one of the co-defendants in the genocide trial — to be placed under house arrest instead of in pretrial detention, due to health concerns. He was also granted bail of Q 500,000.

A separate motion to send Ríos Montt to prison as he awaits trial was rejected; he will remain under house arrest. The trial is set to resume in early January, 2015. Continue reading

Scholarships awarded to 28 girls and boys of Santa Cruz Barillas

Thanks to a donation for student scholarships given by St. Margaret’s Church in Annapolis, Maryland, GHRC was able to provide a unique symbolic contribution to the children of the political prisoners of Santa Cruz Barillas. A total of 13 girls and 15 boys received funds to support their school expenses for 2013.

The students and their families have been in a vulnerable position for the last 8 months awaiting the fate of their parents, who were detained in May 2012 during the State of Siege declared in their municipality by President Otto Pérez Molina. There were various irregularities during their detention, including their arrest and delivery by civilians to the police and military and the charges against them, claiming their responsibility for disturbances in the municipality.

However, those arrested are recognized and respected leaders who have distinguished themselves in defense of their land, particularly in their fight against a hydroelectric dam, funded with Spanish capital, along a river that is important for their communities.

On January 1, 2013, Judge Luis Fernando Pérez Zamora of Santa Eulalia ordered the immediate release of the 8 detainees and rejected all civil or legal action against them.

All of them – Diego Juan Sebastián, Andrés León Andrés Juan, Joel Gaspar Mateo, Ventura Juan, Antonio Rogelio Velázquez López, Pedro Vicente Núñez Bautista, Saúl Aurelio Méndez Muñoz y Amado Pedro Miguel – were declared innocent of the charges brought against them.

In the months that passed from their detention until their release, their wives and partners were faced with complete responsibility for their families. Economically, the situation was difficult, as the cost of going to Santa Eulalia to attend court hearings and to the capital to visit the prisoners in the preventive center where they were held was added to the families’ regular expenses.

GHRC distributed the scholarships on January 11, 2013, a day after the leaders of Santa Cruz Barillas were released. They went to all the children of 7 of the detainees and additionally, the children of two community leaders who have suffered persecution since May 2012.

In an interview with Arcadia Aurora Velásquez López, community leader of San Carlos Las Brisas in Santa Cruz Barillas, she explained that since she was forced to leave her house on May 2, 2012, she has been unable to return. She was issued an arrest warrant without any legal basis, her only crime was speaking out against abuses committed by the company Hidro Santa Cruz.