Guatemala News Update: April 13-17

Families Displaced from Polochic Valley Denounce Poor Living Conditions

At a press conference on Friday, April 17, representatives of 14 communities comprising approximately 629 families evicted in 2011 from the Polochic Valley denounced their current living conditions, which have led to issues such as malnutrition and starvation. The Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) also stated that it will deliver a preliminary Red Cross report to President Pérez Molina on the critical health situation of the families.

Community members are calling on the Guatemalan government to 1) promptly attend to the malnourished children; 2) hold a high-level meeting with community members to discuss the situation, and; 3) fulfill its obligation to grant land to all evicted families.

Top Guatemalan Officials Arrested in Crime Ring Takedown

In a joint effort by the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s office and the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), 20 officials were arrested on Thursday, April 16, including the current and former heads of Guatemala’s tax collection agency. The officials are being accused of being part of a tax fraud and contraband ring.

A warrant was also issued for Juan Carlos Monzón, the secretary for Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who is accused of being one of the operation’s ringleaders and is currently out of the country.

The arrests come amidst an important debate about whether or not the CICIG’s mandate, which is set to expire in September 2015, will be renewed. Although a diverse group of Guatemalan and international organizations have advocated for its continuation, President Pérez Molina has suggested that he will not extend the Commission’s mandate. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: December 1-5

Families Evicted from the Polochic Valley Call for Housing and Relocation

In March of 2011, 769 families were violently evicted from their homes in the Polochic Valley to make way for the sugar cane company Chabil Utzaj. This week, representatives from The Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) presented a letter to President Otto Pérez Molina asking that the government honor its promise to relocate all the families. In addition, several international organizations have also been pressuring the government to fulfill its prior agreement to compensate the evicted families.

So far, only 140 families have been given land. The other 629 are still waiting without access to basic public services, food, and other necessities.

One day after receiving the letter, the government announced that it will buy two more plots of land to distribute to 250 more families in March of 2015. The remaining 379 families are slated to receive land sometime later in 2015.

Rodríguez Under House Arrest

Guatemala’s High Risk Court has accepted the petition of José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez — one of the co-defendants in the genocide trial — to be placed under house arrest instead of in pretrial detention, due to health concerns. He was also granted bail of Q 500,000.

A separate motion to send Ríos Montt to prison as he awaits trial was rejected; he will remain under house arrest. The trial is set to resume in early January, 2015. Continue reading

Families Violently Evicted from the Polochic Valley Demand Rights

More than 3 years have passed since 769 families were violently evicted from the Polochic Valley at the hands of the sugar cane company Chabil Utzaj, in conjunction with Guatemalan police and military forces. Since then, the Polochic case has become one of the emblematic land rights cases.

Today, over 30 representatives of affected families, alongside members of several organizations, demonstrated in front of the presidential offices in Guatemala City to continue to demand their ancestral land rights. They also delivered a letter to President Otto Perez Molina — signed by over 100 organizations including GHRC — in support of the 75% of families who remain without land, homes, and basic services. Although the government agreed to return land to all families affected by the eviction, the process has been stalled since October of 2013, when only 140 of the 769 families were relocated.

Polochic-protest-12.2.14The letter to President Molina calls for an urgent solution for all families. It also draws attention to a changing rural landscape where economic policies that promote monoculture agriculture and extractive projects have led to the displacement of families and entire communities.

To accompany this action virtually, you can find suggestions for tweets and Facebook posts at this link (in Spanish): https://acaparamiento.titanpad.com/5.

Guatemala News Update: August 11-15

Agreement to construct hydroelectric project leads to violent eviction

An agreement signed between the mining company Hidro Santa Rita and President Otto Pérez Molina on July 30 resulted in a violent eviction in Monte Olivo, Cobán, Alta Verapaz. As a result of the eviction and subsequent protests, 24 people were arrested, six police officers injured, and three people died. There was reportedly no consultation with the communities that would be affected by the project’s installation.

Another Goldcorp crime is exposed

An interview with a woman by the alias of “Doña A” recounts the alleged 2009 murder of her husband by employees of the Marlin Mine in Northwest Guatemala. Her husband informed neighboring communities about the negative effects the mine would have and also helped organize a community referendum. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update July 14-18

National Guardsmen may be sent to assist Border Patrol

President Obama has been asked to authorize the deployment of at least 1,000 members of the National Guard with access to drones, helicopters, and night vision to help Border Patrol agents deter migration. According to Prensa Libre, Obama has said that he would be willing to deploy the guardsmen as a temporary measure, provided there is room in the budget.

The OAS condemns suggested accelerated deportation of child migrants

General Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, criticizes the notion that child migrants are a threat to US security and demands that their rights be respected. He elaborates by emphasizing that international standards say children have the right to an immigration interview, must receive humane treatment, and be given shelter.

Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office investigates protocol for receiving children returning to Guatemala

In response to claims by different migrant organizations that Guatemala does not have the necessary conditions to care for children who are deported from Mexico or the US, the Human Rights Ombudsman was present at La Aurora International Airport to observe how Guatemalan authorities are treating children upon their return to Guatemala. It was found that the appropriate protocols have been established for minors who are reentering the country and they are being moved to shelters that are well-maintained. Continue reading

News Update: October 19-25

Constitutional Court asks lower courts to reconsider Montt for amnesty

A judicial spokesman for Guatemala’s Constitutional Court told Spanish news agency EFE on Wednesday that a court ruling this week (which has not yet been made public) opens the door to amnesty to former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. According to Prensa Libre, the court decision recommended that the case against Rios Montt be dropped, suggesting that he could be protected under a now-defunct 1986 amnesty law made by Guatemala’s then-military regime. Plaza Publica clarifies that the Court only found that Judge Carol Patricia Flores should assess the extent of the 1986 amnesty decree, but did not endorse it.

In a public hearing at the Constitutional Court on Thursday, human rights Prosecutor Érick Geovani de León Morataya denied that Article 8 of the National Reconciliation Law could apply to charges of genocide. He said that Montt and his defense were attempting to use these protections as a means to stall the process.

Read the GHRC statement on the Constitutional Court ruling here.

Independent news channel attacked

On Saturday, October 19, unidentified gunman shot and killed Viltor Garcia, the bodyguard for Karina Rottman, who heads the independent cable news channel VEA Canal. This channel is known for its criticism of the Pérez Molina administration and allots time to individuals and organizations that oppose the government, touching on issues such as: land rights, resource exploitation, and indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) movements. Rottman says this was the second attack against her in two weeks. This year, there have been more than 80 attacks and threats against journalists.

Continue reading

News Update: September 7-20

Residents of San José Nacahuil say police responsible for massacre

On September 7, 11 were killed and 15 injured after gunmen opened fire at a cantina in the indigenous village of San José Nacahuil, San Pedro Ayampuc. Though officials blame the attack on gang violence, families of the victims report that police are responsible and call for officials to hold them responsible.

Analysis following this tragedy has indicated the possible connection to the peaceful non-violent resistance at “La Puya,” which community members of Nacahuil are involved in. One theory is that the massacre was carried out to justify militarizing the community and providing security to the mining project, which has been delayed for over a year because of the community’s peaceful resistance known as La Puya. Representatives of La Puya note that this event comes after their peaceful, non-violent resistance has been facing intimidation from police patrols since August 31, and that in the past events like this one have come before repressive measures against La Puya.

The Interior Minister is evaluating whether to place a police station in San José Nacahuil in the future. The police left the village around 2004 due to local sentiment that the patrol was causing more insecurity. Continue reading

News Update: August 31- September 6

Indigenous group brings complaint against Mining Law to IACHR

The Western People’s Council of Mayan Organizations (CPO) has filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) against Guatemala’s Mining Law, based on the law’s lack of a mechanism to consult with indigenous communities, which the CPO claims violates international law. Previously, the CPO challenged the law before Guatemala’s Constitutional Court but the Constitutional Court upheld the Mining Law, leaving the CPO no recourse but the IACHR.

CICIG has new leader

Iván Velásquez Gómez is the new head of the International Comission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). President Otto Pérez Molina announced that this was the last period of CICIG in the country and the investigation of ongoing and new cases will continue until 2015, when they will have to transfer the work to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police.

Polochic families demand integral support

While the government is set next week to give 140 land titles to families evicted from the Polochic Valley two years ago, these residents point out that land is not sufficient to return to a sustainable lifestyle. The area where they will be relocated is more than 80 km from their original community of Agua Caliente and lacks water, roads, and basic services. They also expressed frustration over the cumbersome and bureaucratic process of obtaining the titles.

Continue reading

News Update: August 20-30

Two boys killed in Monte Olivo

13 year old Ageo Isaac Garcia died on Tuesday after being moved to Guatemala City in critical condition. His brother, David Estudardo Pacay Maaz, died on Monday after struggling to survive for more than 72 hours. The shooting of the two boys is allegedly related to an attempt to kidnap David Chen from the community of Monte Olivo. An alleged employee of the Santa Rita Company, which wants to build a hydroelectric dam in the Dolores River, asked the children about Chen’s whereabouts. Since the children refused to tell him anything, the employee allegedly shot them.

IACHR Special Rapporteur visits Polochic

Dinah Shelton, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the Inter American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) visited two of the communities evicted two years ago in the Polochic Valley. Accompanying her was Kelsey Alford-Jones of GHRC who assured that her organization would monitor the handover of land to 158 families, which the Guatemalan Government has promised would be carried out on September 14th. Shelton also interviewed communities in Totonicapán, Huehuetenango and San Marcos. The IACHR will be publishing a report covering indigenous peoples in Guatemala and their struggle for land, natural resources, and consultation.

Case against Canadian mining company will move forward to trial

A surprise came in the Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc. case when the mining company opted not to appeal the Ontario Superior Court’s decision to try the case in Canada. The plaintiffs are suing over an alleged gang rape, a shooting and the killing of a community leader from El Estor. The next stage in the case will be the discovery process.

New developments arise in Barillas case

On August 27, eight community leaders of Santa Cruz Barillas went to the Tribunals Tower in an effort to close the case against them which had resulted in their eight months of illegal detention. During this visit, Rogelio Velásquez and Saúl Méndez were again detained on an arrest warrant regarding a murder from 2011. The trial for the assassination of community leader Andrés Pedro Miguel on May 1, 2012 is also coming to a close as both sides have presented witnesses this week.

Continue reading

News Update: July 2-July 10

Lawyers in Genocide Trial ask the Constitutional Court to make a decision and allow case to move forward

Both the prosecution and the defense asked the Constitutional Court to make a decision regarding the defense’s appeal about the decision issued by the Appeals Court on May 6th.  to reinstate Defense Attorney Francisco García Gudiel.

Hunger in the Polochic Valley

Representatives from the 14 indigenous communities that had been evicted from their homes in March of 2011 reported that among the  community members, 6 out of 10 children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, and two out of every 100 adults suffers from acute malnutrition.  Additionally, more than half of the population does not have access to health services. This data was gathered by the Ixim Rural Studies Collective, which also reported economic and social rights violations. President Otto Pérez Molina made a commitment that the 800 families that were displaced would receive land. He claimed that the first group of 300 families will receive their land by September 15th. Continue reading