Guatemala News Update: September 7-11


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

Guatemala’s Presidential Race Headed to Runoff; Comedian Jimmy Morales Leads the Vote

Residents vote at a center in Guatemala City. Photo: Dania Rodríguez

Residents vote at a center in Guatemala City. Photo: Dania Rodríguez

Just days after former President Otto Pérez Molina resigned and was subsequently sent to prison, Guatemalans were faced with the next chapter in an ongoing political saga: the opportunity to elect a new leader.

When polls closed on September 6, votes had been cast not only for the new president and vice president — who will take office in January 2016 — but also for members of congress and the Central American Parliament, as well as for municipal leaders throughout the country.

FCN candidate Jimmy Morales — a comedian with no political experience, but who has marketed himself as a “new option” — led the presidential race alongside Manuel Baldizón (LIDER) and Sandra Torres (UNE). However, since no candidate secured the required 50% of the vote needed to win, a runoff election will take place in October between the two top candidates. [Read more about the leading candidates here].  Continue reading

Guatemala News Update, August 24-28: 100,000 Join Protest in Guatemala City

Thousands Join Protest; Call for Resignation of Otto Pérez Molina

A general strike was called on Thursday, August 27 as an estimated 100,000 people gathered in Guatemala City’s central plaza to call for the resignation of President Pérez Molina, an end to corruption, and postponement of the upcoming elections. Many schools and businesses closed yesterday to allow for participation in the protest, and, in the end, Guatemala’s powerful business lobby — CACIF — also supported the strike.

The protest — the biggest yet in a series of mass mobilizations held over the last 17 weeks — comes just after President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named last week as the head of “La Linea,” a tax fraud scheme used to defraud the State of what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Baldetti was arrested on August 21 and is being charged with criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Pérez Molina, who has reiterated that he will not step down and has already survived one attempt from congress to strip him of his immunity from prosecution, is also implicated in the corruption network. Once again, Guatemala’s top court ruled on August 25 to accept a petition to repeal the president’s immunity, and the matter now awaits a decision from congress.

Protest-Aug27“It was incredible to feel the energy of everyone present,” said Dania Rodríguez, GHRC’s interim director of the Guatemala office. “The plaza was filled with families, students, representatives from the government and business sectors, artists, and indigenous authorities from different departments. People began arriving at 8:00 am, with many people staying until after 10:00 pm at night. “

Demonstrators used the space to call for the resignation of the president, holding signs that read “Yo no tengo presidente” (I don’t have a president) and “Renuncia Ya” (Step Down). The Attorney General’s office, the National Council of Bishops and the government comptroller’s office have also urged the president to resign.

“However, others,” Dania explained, “made calls for comprehensive government reform, for the possibility of a transitional government, for reforms to electoral law, and for the postponement of the national elections scheduled for September 6.”

To read more from GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones about concerns around the upcoming elections, click here. The protests were also covered by Democracy Now and were the subject of Al Jazeera’s August 27 episode of The Stream.

Genocide Retrial is Set for Guatemalan Former Dictator

On August 25, judges ruled that the re-trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez will move forward. On August 18, Montt was diagnosed with “incurable” dementia — the culmination of a series of psychiatric evaluations that had delayed the trial for weeks and threatened to shut down the case. Despite the fact that Montt is unable to appear in court, a closed-door trial will move forward with witnesses (but will not be open to the public). Judges also ordered that the physician who has been treating Montt be investigated for possible medical negligence and for potentially endangering his life.

Montt’s legal team will represent him in court, and the next hearing is set for January 11, 2016.

Earlier in August, GHRC Executive Director spoke about the case on Latin Pulse radio.

Corruption Investigations Implicate President; Guatemalans Urge Reforms Before Elections

BarramosCorruption-N.Rivera(A version of this article by Kelsey Alford-Jones was first published by TeleSUR)

Investigations into corruption in Guatemala have expanded to the highest levels of government as President Otto Pérez Molina and his former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named on Friday as the head of “La Linea,” a criminal structure that has been robbing an unknown amount — but what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars — from the State. Baldetti, who resigned on May 8, is in police custody, and will face prosecution for criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Guatemala’s top court also approved a process to repeal the president’s immunity from prosecution, and the matter now awaits a decision from the congress.

These investigations have spurred massive and sustained protests calling for the president’s resignation and represents a historic opportunity to bring about meaningful reform in a moment when the nation is on the verge of institutional collapse. With unprecedented momentum building to address unbridled government corruption and impunity, the biggest impediment to successful reform may be the September 6 elections.

Corruption Exposed

The move to bring the president and vice president to justice is only the latest development in a series of corruption scandals that have linked numerous high-level public officials, and all major political parties, to corruption and other illicit activities. In May alone, seven different government ministers resigned or were fired, many under investigation for charges ranging from granting anomalous contracts and influence trafficking, to criminal conspiracy and fraud. This week, numerous cabinet members resigned, including at least five more government ministers. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 17-24

Guatemala President Balks at Calls for Resignation

With just weeks until Guatemala’s general elections, public prosecutors and the CICIG revealed that they have uncovered enough evidence to place President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti at the top of a tax fraud scandal that has rocked the country since mid-April. Baldetti was arrested on August 21.

The announcement prompted another wave of resignations from government ministers; however, President Pérez Molina again rejected calls for his resignation in a public statement on Sunday.

Guatemalans Say Reforms Needed Before Any Future Election

In this opinion piece, GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones discusses Guatemala’s current political context, ponders what might happen next in the country, and explains the risks of moving forward with elections without much-needed reforms.

A related article also highlights the dismal conditions for holding Guatemala’s presidential election.

Doctors say Guatemala ex-dictator Rios Montt has dementia

On August 18, a team of medical evaluators ruled that Ríos Montt suffers from “incurable” dementia, a development which could prevent Montt from ever again facing trial. This was the final decision in a series of psychiatric evaluations of Montt that has delayed the trial for weeks. In a hearing is set for August 25, judges will decide whether or not the retrial will move forward. Continue reading

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.


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 29-July 3

Guatemala High Court Revives Immunity-Stripping Process for President Pérez Molina

On July 1, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court lifted the injunction suspending the process to remove President Pérez Molina’s immunity, which means that the Congressional Committee may now move forward with its investigation of Pérez Molina over corruption allegations. The process could result in the president’s impeachment.

Protesters Call for the Resignation of Pérez Molina

Demonstrators took to the streets of Guatemala City again this weekend to demand that President Pérez Molina resign amid allegations of corruption. Although many expected a low turn-out due to the national holiday on Monday, 300 people participated in the protest and have expressed their frustration that they are not “seeing any results.”

The Human Rights Convergence — a coalition of Guatemalan human rights groups — released a statement calling for the protection of citizens involved in the protests and other social movements to root out government corruption.

“Tear Gas Used to Attack Guatemala Village: Official Corruption Ransacking Nation’s Treasury and Natural Resources”

Epoch Times published an article reporting on the illegal jade mining in the mountainside of El Arco, highlighting the role of Guatemala’s National Civil Police (PNC) in protecting the illegal operations. Residents have been organizing through a group called the Fundación Turcio Lima (FTL), created to “obtain clean water rights and to exercise civil rights by ordinary people by enabling them to gain official titles to their real property.”

Two Police Officers Arrested for the Murder of Journalists

Three individuals, two of whom are police officers, were arrested for the murder of two journalists on Friday. The officers, Jorge León Cabrera Solís and Artemio de Jesús Juárez Pichiyá, were believed to have murdered journalists Danilo López (a journalist for Prensa Libre) and Federico Salazar on March 10 as they were walking through a park in Mazatenango.

Damming Dissent: Community leaders behind bars in Guatemala after opposing hydro projects

This article by Sandra Cuffe looks at the pattern of criminalization of community leaders in Huehuetenango for their involvement in movements to oppose hydroelectric dams in the region.

“Are we witnessing a Central American Spring?”

This Foreign Policy article looks at the parallels in corruption scandals in Honduras and Guatemala as an indicator for a potential political spring in the region.