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

Guatemala News Update: July 6-10

Ríos Montt. Photo by James Rodríguez

Ríos Montt. Photo by James Rodríguez

Ex-ruler Ríos Montt found unfit for trial

Attorneys for Efraín Ríos Montt have requested that the genocide case against him be dismissed after an investigation by Guatemala’s National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF) deemed Montt unfit to stand trial. INACIF released a statement on July 7 declaring that the 89-year-old would not be able to respond accurately to questioning due to his mentally incapacitated state.

Following years of delays, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and war crimes in May 2013. The case was celebrated throughout Guatemala and Latin America as the first case in which a former dictator was convicted of genocide in a domestic court. The decision was rescinded 10 days later by the Constitutional Court due to a questionable legal technicality. The retrial was set for January of this year, but additional delay tactics further derailed the case. A hearing is scheduled for July 23, 2015 to determine whether the trial will move forward, although it seems unlikely that the case will proceed.

CICIG Captures Former Minister of Energy and Mines and Former Private Secretary for President Pérez Molina

On July 9, the CICIG announced the arrests of several more public officials on corruption charges including  another individual close to President Pérez Molina — Gustavo Martinez. Martinez is the president’s son-in-law and former private secretary, and has been arrested for alleged influence trafficking. According to the CICIG’s website, Martinez had inserted meetings with various companies into President Pérez Molina’s schedule in exchange for bribes. Former Vice Minister of Energy and Mines, Edwin Ramon Rodas Solares, was also arrested. Continue reading

Excerpt from Nómada interview with Ambassador Todd Robinson

The below excerpt is part of an interview with Todd Robinson, the US Ambassador to Guatemala, published in Nómada (in Spanish). With increasing calls for President Pérez Molina’s resignation, Ambassador Robinson has come under fire recently by Guatemalans who accuse him of helping to “prop up” a corrupt administration. The interview contemplates the role of Robinson and the US in Guatemala.

Selected questions and answers from the interview, translated to English:

Question 1: Right now, no one wants to be seen with President Otto Pérez, and you do. What message would you like to send with your appearance at the Presidential House? Aside from the issue of polygraphs.

Photo: Carlos Sebastián

A: None. The government has asked us to help with the SAT [Guatemala’s tax collection agency] and we had polygraph equipment [and technicians]. There was a team of Guatemalan businessmen who were in Washington to discuss the Alliance for Prosperity and they asked for help with several institutions from the State Department. It was a happy coincidence that we had that equipment. I don’t believe that it’s a secret that we work very closely with the government. We don’t have the luxury of choosing the Guatemalan government—it’s the decision of the Guatemalan people. And of course, because we are good partners, or want to become good partners with the Guatemalan society and the government, when they ask us for help and we can help, we’re going to do it. 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

Guatemala News Update: October 27 – 31

IACHR Hearings on Guatemala

At hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday in Washington, DC, Guatemalan organizations discussed access to justice and the legacy of the internal armed conflict, as well as the situation of human rights defenders, militarization and judicial independence.

In addition, the IACHR has expressed concern about the excessive militarization of Guatemala. The organization points to the presence of the military in schools, civilian security squadrons, and the use of martial law. In response, the Guatemalan government has denied the existence of militarization in the country and claims that the army only supports the police in security matters if the situation requires it.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Finds Guatemala Guilty of Failing to Investigate Activist’s Death

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) announced that it found Guatemala guilty of failing to investigate the death of human rights defender Florentin Gudiel Ramos. The court also determined that the government failed to provide adequate protection for his daughter, Makrina Gudiel, who is also a human rights activist. The State has failed to comply with eleven similar rulings in other human rights cases, prompting the IACtHR to declare Guatemala in contempt of court in August 2014.

Makrina visited the US this year as part of GHRC’s Spring Speaker’s Tour. Read more about Makrina’s fight for justice here.

Guatemalan Officers Face Sexual Slavery Charges in Historic Trial

Guatemalan activist and feminist Luz Mendez writes about another historic case moving forward in Guatemala. On October 14th, Guatemala’s High Risk Court ruled that two army officers would be charged for sexual crimes perpetrated against Q’eqchí women at the military outpost of Sepur Zarco. These crimes were committed over a six-year period between 1982 and 1988. The trial is the first for sexual slavery during armed conflict that has been presented in the country where the acts took place, and could establish an important precedent in ending impunity for crimes of sexual violence.

Adding muscle to the Guatemalan military?

 

Military bases opened in Guatemala in 2012 (elperiodico.com.gt)

Military bases opened in Guatemala in 2012 (elperiodico.com.gt)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel heads to Guatemala this week to “add muscle and sinew” to defense ties between that country and the United States and highlight the importance of helping partner nations improve their militaries. However, a recently released United Nations 2013 Global Study on Homicide offered alternative methods of combating the violence plaguing Guatemala.

Besides Hagel’s trip, Guatemala has received various high level visits from US officials over the last several months focused on security cooperation, including General John Kelly, head of US Southern Command, and Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield. The increased attention has corresponded with an increase in security assistance as well. Guatemala jumped to the third highest country recipient of Department of Defense military and police aid in Latin America in 2012. The US State Department has also provided significant funding to a joint task force on Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico, and has donated 42 vehicles to a recently announced base on Guatemala’s southern border with Honduras.

Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: March 31 – April 4

Say “No!” to U.S. funds for the Guatemalan Army

Upside Down World publicized the call from us at GHRC and our partners at NISGUA for the US government to maintain restrictions on funding to the Guatemalan Army, as Guatemala has not complied with conditions laid out in the 2014 US Appropriations Law.

Click here to sign our petition! Continue reading