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

Guatemala News Update March 8-14

Under the Volcano: Mining conflicts in Guatemala erupting in violence

Tensions continue to grow over mineral exploitation in Guatemala. One mining resistance movement, extraordinary for its dedication to non-violence and its success to date, is La Puya. The movement celebrated its second anniversary on March 3rd. The movement has lessons to offer other movements in Guatemala, as well as environmental movements in the U.S. 

Backlash continues over hydroelectric projects in Guatemala

An estimated 20,000 people demonstrated in Guatemala City last week against a plan to expand energy projects throughout rural areas of Guatemala complaining that energy prices are too high and that hydroelectric projects would result in displacement and land seizures. Of 57 sources of conflict identified by the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, 17 are hydroelectric projects, including Chixoy and Xalalá. 

“There’s no justice for the people whose human rights were violated,” Kelsey Alford-Jones, executive director of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission USA, said. Major hydroelectric and mining projects are notorious for “corruption and rubber stamping of environmental impact reports,” which has “led to severe lack of trust in public institutions.”

Survivors remember victims of Río Negro Massacre

Carmen Sánchez, whose son Miguel was murdered in the Río Negro Massacre at three years old on May 14, 1982, remembers her son and other victims of the massacre that was the devastating result of the installation of the Chixoy Dam. Community members, including Carmen, knew there were conflicts related to the pending dam, but never thought the soldiers would come to Río Negro. Thirty-two years later, justice has still not come. Through the Appropriations Act passed by the U.S. Congress, Carmen and other survivors are hoping that peace will come one day.

Continue reading

Victory in the US Congress: Reparations for the Chixoy Dam and the Military Ban

32 years ago today, 177 women and children were brutally murdered in Pokoxom during a series of state-ordered massacres which left a death toll of 444 Maya Achi people. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA expresses support for the survivors of the community of Rio Negro, who lived through brutal violence committed as part of the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam.

On January 16th, after a protracted battle, the US Congress passed a consolidated appropriations bill for 2014. The bill includes various restrictions on funding from the US Department of State (DOS) to Guatemala’s armed forces — a clear, if partial, victory against impunity and militarization.

Reparations for the Chixoy Dam

Chixoy dam

The Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam Reservoir. Photo by James Rodríguez.

The restriction that has received the most attention in Guatemalan news relates to reparations to 33 communities impacted by the construction of the Chixoy Dam in the early 1980s. Members of these communities, including survivors of the gruesome Rio Negro massacres, have waited for over 30 years for compensation and recognition of the injustice and abuse they suffered. The legislation bars the Guatemalan army from receiving funding under the Act until DOS certifies that Guatemala is taking credible steps to implement the Reparations Plan which the Guatemalan government signed in 2010, but never implemented.

In February, the organization representing the 33 communities affected by the dam — Adivima — released a statement criticizing the lack of progress in the implementation of the Reparations Plan. Adivima reported that, in the month after the bill was passed, the communities were neither approached by the government, the World Bank or IDB, nor were they informed of any concrete steps taken by the government to address the issue.

GHRC and partners are calling on the US Government to seek input from the communities as part of the evaluation process the bill requires. The US Appropriations Law creates a historic opportunity to finally compensate the communities that lost their homes and hundreds of loved ones, but if they are locked out of the process, we risk re-victimizing the very communities the law is meant to support.

The Military Ban

The bill contains another restriction, which has been largely ignored, related to ongoing and past human rights abuses committed by the Guatemalan Army. The language accompanying the bill bars DOS from granting funds from the Foreign Military Financing Program to the army until the Secretary of State certifies that the army is meeting certain conditions. The restriction is narrow, and still allows funding under this program to the rest of Guatemala’s armed forces. Continue reading