Guatemala News Update: October 20-24

State of Prevention Extended 15 Days in San Juan Sacatepéquez

On October 21, the government extended the “State of Prevention” imposed upon San Juan Sacatepéquez by another fifteen days. The State of Prevention, which has been in place since September 21, suspends constitutional rights in the wake of a violent clash in the community of Los Pajoques. The conflict resulted from a dispute over the construction of a cement factory and a highway.

On October 24, a group of women from San Juan marched through Guatemala City to demand an end to the State of Prevention. The women presented a complaint regarding alleged abuses with the Human Rights Ombudsman and ended the march in front of the presidential offices to call on the government to end its use of martial law.

SJS-marchThree Linked to Criminal Network Run by Byron Lima Oliva

The ex-Director of the Penitentiary System, Édgar Camargo; the wife of Byron Lima Oliva, Alejandra Reyes Ochoa; and an ex-agent in the National Civil Police, Carlos Cermeño, have been linked to criminal activity headed by Byron Lima Oliva. Charges against them include conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: October 6 – 10

Request to Lift “State of Prevention”

Residents of San Juan Sacatepéquez are requesting that the government lift the “state of prevention.” There is extreme tension between soldiers and civilians; soldiers are intimidating children, and some offer them candy in exchange for the names of their parents or the whereabouts of people the Public Ministry is searching for.

Supreme Court Asked to Take Action on Nominations

Human rights ombudsman Jorge de León Duque has demanded that the Constitutional Court take action in order to resolve the controversy surrounding the recent selection of thirteen judges. Claudia Escobar, a judge from the Fifth Circuit of Appeals, has also renounced the elections. Some minority sections of Congress are asking that the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala investigate, though the organization has yet to receive a formal request.

No Respect for Human Life

Archbishop Óscar Julio Vian Morales claims Guatemala has no respect for human life, speaking in light of recent violent incidents, such as the kidnapping and murder of a ten year-old girl named Dulce Velásquez. To combat rising violence, Vian proposes a better education system and the cultivation of values in children.

Halt in Adoptions May Be Fueling Border Surge

In 2008, Guatemala halted all adoption proceedings. Before this, about 4,000 children a year were adopted by American parents. Some experts are saying that this halt is contributing to the recent surge of migrant children to the United States. Advocates point out that if adoptions had not been halted, many of these children risking their lives en route to the United States could have been legally adopted in the first place. In the United States, these children face detention centers and deportation, while in Guatemala, they face poverty and exploitation by gangs.

Mexican Raids Resume

Mexico has resumed raids against the influx of Central American immigrants crossing its borders in order to reach the United States.

Guatemala News Update: September 29-October 3

Former Guatemalan Police Chief to Stand Trial

A trial began this week against former police chief Pedro García Arredondo, who is being charged with ordering the massacre of 37 people who were peacefully protesting inside the Spanish Embassy in 1980. The massacre, which involved soldiers and police setting fire to the embassy, occurred in the context of Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war. Thirty-seven people, most of them indigenous Mayans, were killed.

Child Migration to US “Neither Sin or Crime” Says Guatemala Foreign Affairs Minister at United Nations General Assembly 2014

Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Raul Morales spoke to the United Nations General Assembly on the importance of promoting greater prosperity in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, in light of the recent child migration crisis. Morales spoke about the importance of working with the United States to resolve the issue, but warned against criminalizing the children, citing the culpability of human trafficking networks.

European Union Donates $15.4 Million To Strengthen Justice in Guatemala

The European Union has appropriated $15.4 million in aid to Guatemala. The money will go towards improving the quality of justice services, such as the Institute of National Forensics and the Penitentiary System, among others. Continue reading

Martial Law Declared Again in Conflict Over Natural Resources

GHRC expresses concern about the declaration of a “State of Prevention” in the municipality of San Juan Sacatepéquez, allegedly in response to acts of violence committed in the community of Los Pajoques on the 19th and 20th of September. Despite the localized nature of the conflict, the administration of President Otto Pérez Molina made the controversial decision to suspend basic constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, throughout the entire municipality for the next 15 days.

sjs-collage-eblastLos Pajoques is one of twelve communities in San Juan Sacatepéquez that have been involved in an ongoing resistance movement to the construction of a cement quarry and processing plant, and recently have opposed the construction of a highway that would cut through the community on its way to the quarry. Their opposition is grounded in concerns about the profound impact that the operations of the cement factory could have on the environment, in an area renown for the cultivation of vegetables and flowers.

The violence, which reportedly left 11 dead, was a tragic manifestation of the division, tension and desperation that has existed in San Juan Sacatepéquez since the arrival of the powerful cement company, Cementos Progreso, in 2006. Continue reading

Concerns Over Incitement to Violence Across Guatemala

(Translation of a press release issued by the Human Rights Convergence. The original Spanish version is available below).

END THIS PROVOCATION AND TERROR

Faced with various events that suggest premeditated incitement of social conflict, the Human Rights Convergence states:

1. Over the last week, a number of acts have occurred that illustrate a pattern of incitement to violence with the intention of sparking conflict, in order to then justify repressive action. The following stand out:

• On Wednesday the 17th, during a day of protests organized by movements in defense of territory, a group of masked people tried to convince the community members located at the crossroads of Cubilhuitz-Salaquín to burn down government buildings. When the community members refused, the masked group threw rocks at the office building, provoking the arrival of the National Civilian Police (PNC), who attacked the community.

• On Thursday the 18th, while the National Civilian Police pressured protestors at a point along the highway in Camotán, Chiquimula to end the protest, supposed members of security forces shot at protestors and injured various members of the police. This provoked a reaction by the PNC against the community, to the point that community reporter Norma Sansir was arrested and unjustly charged, along with a lay employee of Nuevo Día, Carlos Juárez, and three other community members, including one person arrested on their own property. Police also launched tear gas inside schools.

• Community leaders from San Juan Sacatepéquez describe how on the afternoon of Friday the 19th, in the hamlet of Los Pajoques, a group of about 15 armed men, employees of the cement company that is attempting to build a factory in the area, arrived and shot into the air. They injured one person in the community who died upon arrival at Roosevelt Hospital. Another person passed away from bullet wounds later that afternoon. The community pursued the armed men and managed to hold four of them prisoner. The rest fled the area after having injured various people, including those who passed away. The community demanded the presence of the PNC, which never arrived on the scene  despite — according to declarations from the head of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) — assurances by the Chief of Police that he himself would arrive. The community members tried to hand over the four people they had detained (those accused of having shot, injured and killed two in the community) to the police.

Nevertheless, hours passed and the PNC never arrived in the community. With the absence of the responsible state authorities, the conflict intensified to such an extreme that unidentified groups set fire to houses and vehicles. Finally, in an equally reputable act, those who had been holding the four suspects prisoner executed them, raising the death toll to six.

2. It is notable that in each case, and particularly in that of San Juan Sacatepéquez on Friday night and early Saturday, the state authorities – absent from the scene of the conflict and without conducting investigations – blame organizations defending their rights to land and territory. This comes without any detailed investigation of the pattern of provocative acts described above.

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

Weekly News Round Up

Updates on the Genocide Trial:
The trial of Efraín Ríos Mont and José Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity on August 14th of this year. Rodríguez Sánchez’s defense filed an injunction against the decision by Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez to send the former military leader to trial. According to Rodríguez Sánchez’s lawyer, Gálvez did not explain the reasons for open debate against his client. Ríos Montt’s defense has now filed a similar legal action in which he claims that the crime he is being charged with does not exist in the legal code. Ríos Montt has also objected to the fact that Judge Patricia Flores is presiding over his appeal to the Court of Constitutionality. His lawyers claim that Flores is unfit to hear his case because she was recused from the proceedings against Héctor Mario López Fuentes, also accused of genocide.

International Crisis Group warns against use of military in maintaining public order
In a recent report featuring the October incident in Totonicapán, the ICG warned about the dangers of using the military to maintain public order in the country, especially where marches and social protests are concerned. Mary Speck, an analyst from ICG, observed that tensions are higher in indigenous areas where issues of mining, access to land, electricity and education have been prominent. She pointed out that these conditions have made the creation of trained civil security forces all the more urgent. The civil security forces should be used to confront protests without the use of violence.

Xincas oppose mining activity
Xinca communities and organizations demanded an end to the licensing of mining projects  in their territory in Santa Rosa, Jutiapa because of environmental damage. Juan Pablo López, director of the Coordinating Council of the Xinka People asked that the Environmenal Ministry consult with the indigenous communities before releasing a decision on environmental impact studies. López says that the San Rafael Las Flores mining company contaminates more than 6 million liters of water in the area daily. Continue reading

GHRC Expresses Concern for those in San Antonio Las Trojes 1

(español abajo)

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC) expresses its concern regarding the tense situation facing community members of San Antonio Las Trojes 1, San Juan Sacatepéquez.

The crisis originated on January 23, 2013 when heavy machinery arrived at the community, escorted by fifty workers from the Cementos Progreso cement factory, armed with machetes. The community was informed that drilling was to begin on a large well for potable water. This project had been proposed by an illegitimate “community development council”, approved by mayor Fernando Bracamonte, and promoted by the cement company.

Local leaders, however, had repeatedly rejected the project because of a lack of prior consultation with the families of the area, and for the division it would further provoke within the community, a population already split between the minority who support the cement factory and the overwhelming majority who oppose it.

The situation worsened on January 24, when a visiting verification commission headed by Daniel Pascual of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), along with international accompaniers and independent journalists were threatened and assaulted by armed supporters of the cement company. That night individuals wearing ski masks blocked the entrance to the community of Las Trojes, preventing local leaders from returning to their homes and families. Continue reading