Guatemala News Update: November 16-27

Sepur Zarco Trial to Start in February

The Sepur Zarco trial — Guatemala’s first criminal trial that pertains to sexual violence from the internal armed conflict — is set to open on February 1, 2016. The case deals with the abuses of women forced to serve as domestic and sexual slaves at the Sepur Zarco military outpost in the 1980s. The case also marks the first time anywhere that a domestic court has taken on a case related to sexual slavery.

Guatemalan Migrants in US Present Demands to Guatemalan Government

Conguate, a coalition of Guatemalan citizens living in the United States, gathered in Guatemala City on November 18 to lobby the Guatemalan government for a specific political agenda concerning migration.

In Guatemala, People Living Off Forests Are Tasked With Protecting Them

This article investigates a conservation strategy in Uaxactún, Guatemala in which communities already living in the region have been given control over protecting local forests from threats such as cattle ranchers, illegal loggers and drug traffickers. The community-based approach has helped conserve the most threatened tree species in the jungle,the native bigleaf mahogany and Spanish cedar. Continue reading

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GHRC Participates in US Congressional Briefing on Migration from Central America

By Julia Nierenberg, GHRC 2015 Fall Intern

This week, outlets such as The New York Times and Al Jazeera America published articles, videos and photos that illuminate and remind the world of the refugee and migrant crisis in the Northern Triangle. In the New York Times piece, Azam Ahmed stated that the images of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing to Europe reminds him of the smaller, but still significant migrant crisis occurring in Central America, specifically in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Men, women, and children are fleeing Central America at increasingly rapid rates. Last year was the first year that Mexican child migrants did not outnumber children fleeing from other countries in Central America to the United States; Ahmed recalls that, “From the beginning of October 2013 through July of this year, nearly 80,000 unaccompanied minors from those Central American countries were detained by United States authorities along the Mexican border.”

On September 16, GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones participated in a briefing hosted by Congressman Raul Grijalva on Capitol Hill about this ongoing crisis; Alford-Jones was joined by speakers from U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Congressional Research Service (CRS), and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Participants in the panel discussion highlighted the need for basic compassion for refugees, just application of the rule of law, and an understanding of the role of the US in contributing to migration from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

migration-briefing-collage

Left: Congressman Grijalva; Right: GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones

In his remarks, Congressman Grijalva reiterated that “this country [the United States] is a refuge for people fleeing violence and death” and that refugees from Central America “deserve the same equitable treatment that we would give to anyone else.” Continue reading

Congressional Briefing on Migration from Central America: Comments by Kelsey Alford-Jones

The below comments are from the September 16, 2015 congressional briefing titled: “Central America’s Unresolved Crisis”



My Name is Kelsey Alford-Jones, I am the Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, an organization that documents and denounces abuses, educates the international community, advocates for just policies and supports communities and activists who face threats and violence.

We have been working in Guatemala for over three decades and have staff on the ground. I also travel frequently to Guatemala.

Last summer GHRC played an active role in the NGO response to the unprecedented number of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, providing analysis and policy recommendations. One year later, Guatemalans continue to seek refuge in the US and it is clear that many have legitimate need for international protection but are not receiving the proper support from the US government. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: September 7-11

JimmyMorales

Jimmy Morales

Guatemala Comedian Wins First Round of Presidential Vote

Just days after former President Otto Pérez Molina resigned and was subsequently sent to prison, Guatemalans took to the polls on September 6 to elect a new leader. FCN candidate Jimmy Morales — a comedian with no political experience, but who has marketed himself as a “new option” — led the presidential race, winning almost 24% of the vote. Initial counts have revealed an extremely close race between the two second-place finishers, Manuel Baldizón (LIDER) and Sandra Torres (UNE). Although the final numbers are not yet known, Torres seems to hold a slight lead, and will likely face Morales in a runoff election set for October 25.

The overall mood remained peaceful and calm on election day, although several complaints were reported, including vote buying, interference from political parties, and ballot burning in some municipalities.

Analysts warn that whoever assumes the presidency will face a multitude of challenges, including a looming financial crisis and a citizenry that is no longer afraid to demand reform.

Read more about the elections on GHRC’s blog.

Guatemalan ex-President Pérez Molina indicted for corruption, sent to jail pending investigation

This week, former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was indicted and will face charges of criminal conspiracy, fraud and accepting bribes. Prosecutors will have three months to continue the investigation, during which time Pérez Molina will be held in preventative prison — an order that Pérez Molina’s lawyers have since appealed. On Wednesday, a court also froze some $700,000 in Pérez Molina’s bank accounts.

The former president maintains that he is innocent, and has accused the US of meddling in Guatemalan politics, endorsing the CICIG, and of orchestrating a “soft coup” against him. Continue reading

Reintegration and Repatriation for Guatemala’s Young Migrants

By Katherine Comly, GHRC Summer 2015 Intern

Photo: Reuters

On June 16, two graduate students from George Washington University hosted a panel discussion on their recent research involving youth repatriation in Guatemala. The event, hosted by the Wilson Center and moderated by Latin American Program Associate Director Eric Olson, discussed the students’ findings on resources and programs available to young children and teens returning to Guatemala after attempting to migrate north to Mexico or the United States. The issue of youth repatriation has become increasingly relevant after the rise in migration of unaccompanied minors last summer.

At the event, graduate student researchers Nathan Hesse and Warren Newton shared preliminary findings from their study on government and civil society engagement in the processes of repatriation, or the return to one’s place of origin or citizenship, and re-integration. They also presented their initial analysis of regional coordination of the Northern Triangle countries with Mexico and the US. Their research revealed that civil society groups, such as Colectivo Vivo Digna and Guatemala Child Return and Reintegration Project (GCRRP), are the chief organizers for repatriation programs, whereas the state provides minimal programs and services for returning youth.

The panel concluded with a series of recommendations for the advancement of repatriation programs for Guatemalan youth, which include:

• Cooperation between the Guatemalan government and civil society
• Community-led development
• Inclusion of funds for reintegration programs in development aid
• Political continuity and will
• Culturally and linguistically sensitive reintegration programs.

Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: May 18-22

Protests Continue; Government Officials Resign Amid Corruption and Bribery Probes

On Saturday, May 16, an estimated 60,000 people gathered at the national palace in Guatemala City to denounce corruption and call for the resignation of top officials, including Otto Pérez Molina. In other regions of Guatemala, as well as in other countries, groups held simultaneous protests as part of the #RenunciaYa movement. Photos from the event are available here.

Then, on May 20, at least 15 more people were arrested in a separate fraud and bribery probe into the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS), including the central bank governor and the head of the  IGSS (who also used to be Pérez Molina’s private secretary). The investigation was also conducted jointly by Guatemalan prosecutors and the CICIG. On the same day, a large protest of campesinos took place in Guatemala City as part of the ongoing #RenunciaYa movement.

Yesterday, Pérez Molina dismissed the Guatemalan intelligence chief, as well as the ministers of the interior, environment and energy, in a move to address citizens’ calls to root our corruption. Calls for the president to also resign continue, but Pérez Molina has stated that he will serve out his term. 

Updates about the ongoing protests and political crisis will be made on our initial explainer.

Maya Q’eqchi’ seek justice in Guatemala and Canada

This in-depth article by Sandra Cuffe tells the story of the struggle of a group from Izabal to seek justice — both in Guatemala and Canada — for shooting community members protesting the Guatemala Nickel Company’s (CGN) Fenix ferro-nickel mining project. Mynor Padilla, the former head of private security for CGN (then a subsidiary of Canadian company HudBay Minerals) is currently standing trial in Guatemala for homicide and assault causing bodily harm.

A separate article also looks at the legal cases against the Guatemala Nickel Company.

The 14-year-old music prodigy who left his home in Guatemala for Los Angeles

This article, part of a series that looks at the aftermath of last summer’s “migration crisis,” details the journey of a 14-year-old Guatemalan boy from his home in Peten to the US.

Guatemala News Update: March 9-13

International Women’s Day Celebrated in Guatemala

International Women’s Day was celebrated worldwide on March 8; in Guatemala, the day was marked with festivities, conferences and articles dedicated to women’s rights. Women held a march, and members of the Alliance Against Criminalization held a press release to call for greater protections for women land and human rights defenders.

Guatemalan Vice-president Roxana Baldetti made use of the occasion to address women’s rights at the UN as part of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. During his recent visit to Guatemala, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also spoke about gender equality, stating that aid from Spain would prioritize combating gender violence.

Two Reporters Shot Dead, Third Injured in Guatemala

On March 10, 2015, in an attempt to assassinate three journalists in the southern city of Mazatenango, two were killed and one was seriously injured. One of the men killed, Danilo López, had received death threats after reporting on corruption in the region. According to Guatemalan police, one of the suspects has now been captured.

GHRC condemned the attack, and called on the Guatemalan government to thoroughly investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice. Read a statement from GHRC and partner organization UDEFEGUA here.

Slow Advances in the Genocide Case

A sanction imposed on Judge Yassmin Barrios, for actions she took as judge in the trial of Efraín Ríos Montt in 2013, has been finally been revoked by the Constitutional Court. The initial sanction included temporary suspension from office for one year and a fine of 5,400 Quetzales.

As the genocide case remains indefinitely delayed, one of the witnesses — Pedro Chávez Brito — has died of an illness. Brito is the second witness to pass away while the case remains in legal limbo, calling attention to the need to restart the process as soon as possible.

Activists Protest the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) in Toronto

Activists partnering with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) protested on March 1 outside the world’s largest mining convention in Toronto, Canada. Among the conference’s sponsors is Goldcorp, a company well known for its human rights violations in Guatemala. Demonstrators also infiltrated the conference with fake programs for the “Corporate Social Responsibility” events.

Central American Alliance for Prosperity Has ‘Business’ Focus

The “Alliance for Prosperity” plan was initially launched in cooperation between the governments of the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and the US to help unaccompanied minors fleeing from Central America to the US. However, Central American officials have prioritized meeting with business representatives over civil society actors — raising concerns that the funds might be diverted to the private business sector.