Guatemala News Update: June 16-20

Lawsuit filed against Tahoe Resources

A lawsuit is being filed against Tahoe Resources in relation to the violence that occurred during a 2013 peaceful protest at the Escobal silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores. The mine’s security guards are being accused by seven Guatemalans of attacking them and critically injuring Luis Fernando García Monroy after shooting him three times, once in the face. The lawsuit also accuses Tahoe’s Chief of Security in Guatemala, Alberto Rotondo, of various crimes, including ordering the attack on the peaceful protestors, fabricating a story that the demonstrators attacked mine employees, and arranging the tampering of evidence. Continue reading

News Update: May 3-22

Genocide Trial Update:  

Ríos Montt Genocide Ruling Overturned

On the evening of May 20th, the historic May 10th ruling that convicted former General Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide was overturned.  The Constitutional Court met to rule on a constitutional challenged raised by Ríos Montt’s defense attorneys at the very end of the trial. The 3-2 ruling in favor of the challenge sets the case back to April 19th, at which point all testimonies had been heard. However, while the annulment does not include the testimonies, it remains unclear whether the trial will be reconvened or repeated altogether.

Overturned Ruling Was Laden With Opposition

Challenges to the conviction do not come as a surprise. Since the trial’s conclusion, business and hard-line military supporters have issued numerous statements calling for its annulment. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Finance (CACIF) stated in a press release that the trial was illegal, that “justice had been prey to ideological conflict,” and the conviction of genocide was “an opinion of the court that we did not share.” Ríos Montt supporters have organized demonstrations protesting his conviction. Moreover, presidential spokesman Francisco Cuevas criticized the international community for “driving the polarization” of Guatemalans following the trial. He also claimed that foreign interference from NGOs in the trial court proceedings ultimately influenced the landmark genocide verdict.

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Ante el estado de sitio en Santa Rosa y Jalapa, Guatemala

La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala expresa su profunda preocupación frente a la imposición de un estado de sitio en dos municipios del departamento de Jalapa y dos de Santa Rosa, que viene como parte de un patrón de ataques contra las comunidades, sus líderes y otros defensores de derechos humanos.

La Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos (UDEFEGUA), ha registrado 328 agresiones en contra de defensores en lo que va del año 2013. Los que se oponen a proyectos mineros han sido víctimas de una gran parte de estas agresiones. Trágicamente, estos hechos rara vez resultan en investigaciones adecuadas y en la sanción de los responsables, contribuyendo a un ambiente peligroso de impunidad.

Ahora, a un año de haber decretado estado de sitio en el municipio de Barillas Huehuetenango, el día 2 de mayo el gobierno de Otto Pérez Molina, decretó estado de sitio en los municipios de Jalapa y Mataquescuintla del Departamento de Jalapa y los municipios de Casillas y San Rafael las Flores del Departamento de Santa Rosa.

El informe de verificación realizado por Waqib Kej, ha registrado abusos de autoridad, intimidación hacia la población, el uso desmesurado de la fuerza, irrespeto a la población, especialmente hacia las mujeres al momento de realizar los allanamientos a sus casas, robos de bienes y dinero durante los registros de los hogares, incluso se habla de la muerte de un menor de edad, como consecuencia de que su madre, al iniciar labor de parto no pudo salir para ser atendida.

Nos preocupa considerablemente la reiteración del uso de la figura del estado de sitio, sobre todo cuando se aprovecha para perseguir y detener a líderes comunitarios, defensores de derechos humanos de sus comunidades. Las comunidades han sido enfáticas a través de consultas comunitarias de buena fe, que el gobierno no ha querido reconocer y que peor aún obvia y concede licencias a proyectos mineros.

Otro elemento que preocupa son las declaraciones dadas por el Ministro de Gobernación Mauricio López Bonilla y el Presidente de la República a medios de comunicación que pretenden confundir y señalan que el estado de sitio se estableció porque en los lugares se realizan actividades de narcotráfico, sicariato, crimen organizado. Señalan que nada tiene que ver el desacuerdo de la población a la minería, pero ya se han realizado varios allanamientos a las viviendas de lideres. A la vez, han hecho señalamientos directos hacia el Parlamento Xinca y hay órdenes de captura para algunos de sus miembros.

López Bonilla afirmó que las personas capturadas hasta el momento no forman parte de estructuras del narcotráfico, pero sí de bandas dedicadas al sicariato, extorsión y otros delitos. Hay más de 40 órdenes de captura vigentes y hasta el momento se han realizado 18 detenciones.

En Santa Rosa y Jalapa, la gran mayoría de los pobladores afectados por el estado de sitio ejercían su derecho de defender su medio ambiente, en el caso de San Rafael las Flores la población realizaba una manifestación pacífica cerca de las instalaciones del proyecto El Escobal, de la Minera San Rafael, S.A., subsidiaria de la empresa canadiense Tahoe Resources.

Manifestamos nuestra preocupación sobre el uso de la militarización y la suspensión de los derechos constitucionales y exhortamos a las autoridades guatemaltecas para que actúen con respeto a los derechos humanos de la población.

Organizations denounce approval of mining license in wake of violence / Organizaciones denuncian licencia minera

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 8, 2013

Mining License Approved in Wake of Violence, Investigation into Murder Pending

(Washington, D.C.) – After more than two years of delay, the Guatemalan Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM) announced on Wednesday, April 3, that it had approved the exploitation license for Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala. The announcement comes less than two weeks after four indigenous Xinca leaders were abducted while returning from a community referendum in El Volcancito, in which more than 99 percent of people voted against the Escobal project. One of those abducted was found dead the next day.

“That MEM issued the license while the investigation of our friend Exaltación Marcos Ucelo’s murder is still pending is not only an affront to Exaltación’s memory, but it is also a violation of our right to consent,” said Roberto González, President of the Xinca Parliament, who was one of the four abducted, only to be released hours later. “If there is impunity for outright murder, how can we expect the Guatemalan government to protect us from harmful contamination generated by mining operations?”

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Weekly News Round-Up, March 18-25

Day 1 of Genocide Trial
On March 19, 2013, the historic trial opened against Rios Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez. After almost two hours of delays by the Defense, the trial began. The public prosecutor stated that the objective of military operational plans under Ríos Montt was the destruction of the Mayan Ixil population as part of a counter-insurgency campaign that characterized civilians of this ethnic and linguistic minority as an “internal enemy”. Attorney Edgar Pérez rejected assertions that the act of seeking justice is itself an act of terrorism or an effort to destabilize Guatemalan society. Political pressure on the actors involved has been intense, and just before the trial begain, President Otto Perez Molina’s denied that genocide took place. Perez told reporters: “It is important to state it because I lived it: there was no genocide in Guatemala.” Marcie Mersky, Program Director at the International Center for Transitional Justice, says such comments may influence legal proceedings and are inappropriate.

Lolita Chávez participates in month-long speaking tour in Canada and US
In events in Montreal, Ottowa, Vancouver, BC and Washington, DC, Lolita Chavez spoke about the work of the K’iche’ People’s Council and community resistance to harmful transnational development projects. In an interview with Montreal Gazette, Lolita stated that: “Canadian companies are the main protagonists in this invasion that brings only death and destruction.” A short video interview is available here.

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GHRC Condemns Attack against Xinca Leaders in Santa Maria Xalapán

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The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) condemns the killing of Exaltación Marcos, who along with Roberto González, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López, was kidnapped yesterday evening, March 17, by a group of heavily armed men.

The four leaders were abducted while returning home from a good-faith consultation in the El Volcancito community, San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala.

Hours after the abduction, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López managed to escape and reach their community.  They had both been badly beaten. Today, Exaltación Marcos was found dead, with his body displaying signs of physical violence. The Santa María Xalapán community now fears for the life of Roberto González, President of the Xinca Parliament, who is still missing.

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Weekly News Round Up Feb. 23-Mar.5

Constitutional Court upholds case closure for Efraín Bámaca’s disappearance
The Constitutional Court (CC) has confirmed the closure of the criminal case involving the forced disappearance of Efraín Bámaca. In March 2011, Bámaca’s widow, Jennifer Harbury, brought a criminal complaint against then presidential candidate Pérez Molina for his role in her husband’s disappearance and death. Bámaca (alias Comandante Everardo) disappeared in 1992. According to the military, he committed suicide, but Harbury says that he was actually detained, tortured and killed. In December 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to re-investigate the case of Bámaca’s forced disappearance. Harbury’s lawyer has indicated that he will take action against Pérez Molina for not fulfilling the IACHR’s demands for a re-investigation of the case.

Constitutional Court rejects legal action filed by Toto indigenous leaders
The Constitutional Court (CC) unanimously rejected the legal action filed by the 48 cantones of Totonicapán against the Mining Law. The court’s decision called on Congress to regulate consultation with indigenous communities as established in ILO Convention number 169. The plaintiffs argue that the Mining Law was issued when there was still a right to consultation under the ILO convention and therefore the law is unconstitutional because it does not respect that right. The trial against the soldiers who fired on the group of protesters in Totonicapán last year is still ongoing. One of the defense lawyers for the accused soldiers says that he will ask for an acquittal. He says that his clients were motivated by “an overwhelming fear”, and thus they are innocent.

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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