Guatemala News Update: July 13-24

Rios Montt Sent for Psychiatric Observation, Delaying the Genocide Trial

Tele Sur TV

Yesterday, ex-Dictator Efrain Rios Montt was placed in a psychiatric hospital for observation by the Guatemalan Court overseeing his retrial for genocide. The court said its ruling was to protect Rios Montt’s health, and was also requested by the Public Ministry, after the defense found him incompetent to stand trial. It has been reported that Rios Montt will be in observation for nine days, delaying his retrial once again.

Senate Published Draft Budget

On Thursday, July 9, the Senate passed a foreign assistance budget allocating $675 million for Central America, with $142 million designated specifically for Guatemala. The bill contains important restrictions, conditions and reporting requirements for Guatemala – including restrictions on funds to the Guatemalan Army. Conditioning US funds based on compliance with human rights investigations and accountability is one thing GHRC and our partners advocate for every year as a tool to leverage positive change in Guatemala, and we were pleased to see many of our recommendations including in the Senate Bill.

Victory for La Puya: Guatemalan Court Orders Suspension of Construction Operations at the El Tambor Mine

GHRC applauds the July 15 resolution by a Guatemalan appeals court which ruled in favor of the right of residents to be consulted about projects that affect them and ordered the suspension of construction activities at the mine.

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The court found the company was operating illegally, “without permit, authorization or approval from the Municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc…to carry out its mining project” and that the responsibility falls to the Municipal Council to enforce the law. GHRC has called on the US Embassy to encourage the company to comply with the verdict, and suspend all construction activities at its mine site until a community consultation is held.

Further recognition of the work of land rights activists continues with the comprehensive account published by Jeff Abbott of Vice News of the country’s unified effort to end corruption within the current political crisis of Guatemala, and describes the role of indigenous communities in current social movements, including resistance efforts against mining and hydroelectric projects.

Judge Confirms Soldiers will be charged not with extrajudicial execution, but with murder in self-defense, for 2012 killing of indigenous protesters

On October 4, 2012, approximately 15,000 members of the indigenous communities in Totonicapán, Guatemala gathered to block five key transit points on the Pan-American Highway to protest the excessive electricity prices, changes to the professional teacher training requirements, and proposed constitutional reforms. A military contingent of 89 soldiers confronted the protestors. As a result, six protesters were killed, 40 were wounded by the military, and one of the protesters was disappeared during the confrontation. The Totonicapán massacre was the first by the military since the war.

After years of delays, a judge, Carol Patricia Flores has confirmed that the nine soldiers involved will be charged of murder in self-defense (“en estado de emocion violenta), rather than for extrajudicial execution. Flores herself faces allegations put forward by the CICIG and Public Ministry of illicit enrichment and money laundering. The Supreme Court will soon decide if Flores should face criminal investigation.

Criminal Charges Filed against former Minister of Energy and Mines

On July 12, 2015, the Guatemalan Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action (CALAS) filed criminal charges against former Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM), Erick Archila, and former Mines Director at MEM, Fernando Castellanos. Archila and Castellanos are accused of violating the Constitution and for breach of duty, as they granted Tahoe Resources an exploitation license without adequate consideration of more than 250 community complaints against the project. CALAS called on the CICIG to fully investigate the Escobal licensing process, citing Archila’s possible involvement in influence trafficking and illicit enrichment.

UN Report Concludes that Criminal Organizations Fund 25% of the Country’s Politics

A recent report conducted by the UN’s CICIG demonstrated that a quarter of the money supplied for the cost of Guatemalan politics comes from criminal organizations, primarily drug traffickers. The report released on Thursday also stated that dishonest money and corruption financially fuel the political system of the country. “Corruption is the unifying element of the Guatemalan political system based on an amalgam of interests that include politicians, officials, public entities, businessmen, non-governmental organizations and criminal groups,” said CICIG Commissioner Ivan Velasquez.

In fact, on July 15, the Vice Presidential candidate for the Lider Party, currently leading polls, was accused of corruption, specifically of illicit association and influence trafficking. Authorities allege that Edgar Barquin was a part of a criminal network led by businessman Francisco Morales to create ghost companies in order to channel over $120 million to China, the US, Colombia, and others countries. 

Meanwhile, Guatemala’s electoral court ruled that Zury Rios Sosa, the daughter of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, could not run for president, a decision quickly overruled by the Supreme Court. Former president Portillo, 2000-2004, was also denied his candidacy for congress. Portillo recently returned to Guatemala after serving a 70-month sentence in US prison for laundering money from the Taiwanese government during his administration.

Public attention is more focused on the multitude of corruption scandals than on the upcoming elections; the OAS, however, has announced it will send a mission to monitor the process.

“Supreme Court on the Side of the Guatemalan People”

The Guatemalan Supreme Court has ruled to allow a congressional probe into corruption allegations against President Perez Molina to continue. If his immunity is withdrawn, he could face charges before his term ends in January 2014.

Guatemala News Update: June 15-19

AFP Photo/Johan Ordonez

AFP Photo/Johan Ordonez

Guatemalan court brakes effort to strip president’s immunity

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has ruled to act on a petition from President Pérez Molina which questions the legitimacy of the congressional panel that is currently investigating allegations against the president and, subsequently, choosing whether or not to remove his immunity from prosecution.

Last Friday, a Congressional hearing was held to elect the five-member commission; those voted into the commission were Baudilio Hichos López, Hugo Fernando García Gudiel and Juan Armando Chuy Chanchavac of the LIDER Party, Independent Congressman Mario Santiago Linares, and Hugo Morán Tobar of the CREO Party.

President Pérez Molina had been ordered to appear before Congress this Thursday to be questioned about his role in the corruption scandal. Instead of appearing to testify, the president sent in a written defense in which he claims that the Supreme Court should not have passed along his case to Congress. The President referred to the decision to remove his immunity as a “purely political, or spurious, or illegitimate situation.”

Also on Thursday, the head of the congressional commission investigating the president, Baudilio Hichos López, resigned after the CICIG linked him to the country’s social security scandal. Congressman Baudilio Hichos may now be stripped of the same legal immunity granted to him as an elected official that he seeks to remove from President Pérez Molina. The head of the CICIG as well as a top prosecutor in Guatemala suspect that Hichos was involved in a questionable real estate rental contract involving the social security agency. Read more about Baudilio Hichos’s resignation here.

Mexico Deporting Migrants from Central America in Record Numbers

After initiating its Southern Border Plan, under pressure from the US, Mexico has increased border protection along its southern boundary. According to the National Immigration Institute, Mexico deported 79% more Central Americans from January to April than it did during the same time period in 2014. Following the influx of nearly 50,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America into the US during 2014, the United States has increased bilateral efforts with Mexico to reduce the migration of Central Americans through Mexico. Human rights groups, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have expressed concerns about Mexico’s heavy-handed approach to curtail the wave of migration. Continue reading

Civil Society Organizations Call for New Security Model, Demilitarization, Human Rights

(Antigua, June 6) More than 160 civil society organizations representing hundreds of thousands of citizens in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the United States, sent an open letter to the OAS General Assembly today calling for alternatives to the war on drugs that guarantee respect for human rights.

Our organizations have documented an alarming increase in violence and human rights violations. While we recognize that transnational crime and drug-trafficking play a role in this violence, we call on our governments to acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region,” the letter states.

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