Guatemala News Update: February 2-6

US Continues Restrictions on Guatemalan Military Aid 

This article discusses continued US pressure on the Guatemalan government to reduce the role of the military across the country, even as Otto Pérez Molina’s administration has overseen the expansion of the military into law enforcement and recently passed a new executive order supporting nine reserve military squadrons to assist with “citizen security” and help “combat organized crime.”

The military is also being used to protect the interests of foreign and multinational corporations working in Guatemala, and to threaten and intimidate land rights activists. Although conditions on US funding remain in place, the US continues to provide support and training to the Guatemalan army in order to combat drug trafficking.

GHRC, quoted in the article, has raised concerns about the increased militarization of daily life in Guatemala, noting that it is also a violation of the peace accords.

US Ambassador to Guatemala Advocates for Extension of the CICIG

US Ambassador Todd Robinson has expressed support for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), stating that he will seek out support from the international community for its continuation.

Although Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina recently announced that he would not request an extension for the CICIG, several Guatemalan and international civil society groups have called for its continuation. A survey by the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce also found that 70% of those interviewed are in favor of extending the mandate of the CICIG for another two years.

This week, heads of the institutions that make up the justice sector also held a closed-door meeting to discuss the permanence of the CICIG; a decision about the extension will be made within the next two months. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: January 26-30

Update on the Genocide Case

Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Science (INACIF) informed on Friday, January 23rd that the results of Montt’s latest medical evaluation show irreversible neurological damage caused by osteomyelitis, the disease diagnosed by INACIF only two weeks before. Though the medical results have proven Montt’s grave status, Judge Flores has ordered weekly evaluations to determine if the he will be able to be present at the next court hearing.

The case continues at a standstill, as further complications and delays have arisen due to concerns from both parties regarding the lack of impartiality of the judges. At the beginning of the re-trial, Montt’s team –though having knowledge of the Judge’s academic background for over a year– suddenly accused Irma Jeannette Valdés Rodas of impartiality.

Judge Valdés was forced to recuse herself from the case and this week, lawyers representing victims in the genocide case presented an objection against the head judge of the Appeals Court that will rule on the recusal. The lawyers argue that Anabella Esmeralda Cardona is not impartial due to her in courses and conferences hosted by the military. The trial will be delayed until both motions are resolved.

Other legal objections from the defense are likely to cause further delay and, according to the International Justice Monitor, it is becoming increasingly uncertain that Ríos Montt will face a re-trial.

Updates in the Spanish Embassy Case

Former chief of the Guatemalan National Police, Pedro García Arredondo, who was found guilty of causing the deaths of 37 people during the 1980 attack on the Spanish embassy case, has been transferred to a hospital in Guatemala City. Moisés Galindo, Arredondo’s lawyer, claims the accused has diabetes and that the disease has created complications on a minor foot injury. Arredondo has been granted a legal authorization for temporary stay at the hospital.

Arredondo was also ordered to pay reparations of Q9 million (approximately US$1.2 million) to the victims’ families. The money is to be divided among the families of six of the victims. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: December – January 20

Guatemalan Ex-police Official Sentenced in Spanish Embassy attack

The trial against former police official, Pedro Garcia Arredondo, came to a close on January 19th. Arredondo was found guilty of orchestrating the 1980 attack on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was sentenced to 50 additional years for the murder of two students after the massacre occurred.

During closing remarks, the prosecution described the fire as an act of state terrorism, while the defense continued to assert that the fire originated from within the embassy, and that the police force did what it “had to do.”

Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú, who was a complainant in the case, spoke on Democracy Now about the importance of the verdict. More information about the history of the case is available on our website, along with a short Q&A with GHRC’s Dania Rodríguez, who was present during the sentencing hearing.

Genocide Trial Resumes, Then Is Suspended Again

More than a year and a half after the 2013 genocide trial concluded, the retrial of Guatemala’s former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt began, only to be abruptly suspended. Both trials have been, from the beginning, filled with legal impediments which have obstructed and delayed them.

As the trial began on January 5th, 2015, Ríos Montt was wheeled into the Guatemala City courtroom on a stretcher — his health used by his defense team as tactic to delay the trial. Though this attempt failed, Montt’s team then questioned the impartiality of Judge Irma Jeannette Valdez Rodas, citing the fact that she had completed a master’s thesis on genocide. This second objection succeeded in delaying the trial, until a new tribunal can be formed.

Despite this interference, Judge Carol Patricia Flores ordered a new medical evaluation of Montt. The Guatemalan National Institute for Forensic Science (INACIF) delivered the medical results on January 14th, confirming that Montt suffers from osteomyelitis, a bone infection. It will be the judge who ultimately decides if Montt should appear in court; the possibility of videoconference communication has also been discussed. In the meantime, the trial is indefinitely suspended.

Civil society excluded from debate about continuation of the CICIG in Guatemala

Amid discussions about whether or not the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) should continue, President Pérez Molina has stated that the work of the CICIG should be analyzed only by government institutions with links to the justice sector. Even though Molina stated in early January that he would solicit input from organizations interested in participating in the analysis, he is now stating that the period of analysis has “reached it’s end.”

The US government has stated that it will continue to provide financial support for the CICIG, as long as political will exists in Guatemala for its continuation.

Poor Guatemalans Are Taking On North American Mining Companies—and Have the Bullet Wounds to Prove It

This in-depth article from The Nation touches on several land rights cases across Guatemala, focusing on the repression and violence that has been used against protesters who oppose extractive projects.

A related article discusses Canada’s mining dilemma, highlighting violations of environmental and indigenous rights committed by mining companies abroad.

Community Radio Station Raided in Sololá, Guatemala

On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, Stereo Juventud — a community radio with programming in the Kaqchikel language — was raided by the Guatemalan Public Ministry. Two police trucks with about 20 policemen, accompanied by 10 government representatives, arrived at the radio station, cut off its power and seized its equipment. Indigenous authorities joined the community in a march to the courthouse, demanding the return of the equipment.

Intensification of Mexico-Guatemala border security

The Mexican government, encouraged and backed by the Obama administration, has taken actions to stop migration from Central America after a significant flow of underage migrants reached the Mexico-U.S border. The frequent governments raids on the trains on which migrants travel have pushed underage migrants to travel on foot, where they can fall victim to gangs and exploitation, being used as cheap labor, or sexual exploitation.

Daughter of former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt might run for presidency in Guatemala

The “Partido Liberador Progresista” (PLP) has invited ex-congresswoman Zury Ríos, the daughter of Efraín Ríos Montt, to become the political party’s candidate for presidency in the upcoming 2015 presidential campaign. The party’s inclusion in the campaign depends on her acceptance, which has not been confirmed.

American woman accused of illegal trafficking of minors

Nancy Susan Bailey, founder of the Seeds of Love orphanage in Guatemala, was apprehended on December 17, 2014 in El Salvador, and turned over to Guatemalan authorities via Interpol. Bailey is accused of human trafficking; in Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity 2010 report, 3,342 irregular adoptions were noted, mostly to US couples.

 

 

The Sentencing in the Spanish Embassy Case: Inside the Courtroom with Dania Rodríguez

On Monday, nearly 35 years after an attack on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala which resulted in the deaths of 37 people, former police chief Pedro García Arredondo was found guilty of orchestrating the 1980 burning of the embassy.

GHRC’s Dania Rodríguez was present at the sentencing hearing, and spoke to us about the mood in the courtroom, the importance of the case, and what the verdict means to her personally.

For more information about the case and the trial, check out the Spanish Embassy page on our website.

Q: What was the atmosphere like in the courtroom?

Dania Rodríguez: The courtroom was full of relatives of victims who passed away that January 31 in 1980, as well as relatives of other victims from the internal armed conflict from El Quiche, Chimaltenango, and other communities who were there expressing their solidarity. You could see a lot of emotion in the faces of Rigoberta Menchu Tum and Sergio Vi. They were the civil parties involved in the trial and, at that moment, were representing all relatives of the victims of the fire. The presence of Spain’s ambassador to Guatemala, Manuel Lejarreta, was also noticeable – he has followed the case since the beginning of the process and attended certain hearings. Above all, there were strong feelings of nervousness and of expectation because – after a trial that lasted more than 3 months – a verdict would finally be reached.

Q: Can you talk about how the case was initiated, and why it’s so important?

DR: Before entering the courtroom, Rigoberta Menchú mentioned that the lengthy process of bringing the case to court was initiated 16 years ago. In a press release from the beginning of the trial, Rigoberta Menchú, Sergio Vi and the relatives expressed, “…the empire of law and justice with due process is the only civilized path forward so that crimes against humanity and state terrorism do not remain in impunity.” This verdict is of great importance, especially in providing closure for relatives of the victims, who have waited 35 years for justice.

Q: How is the case important to you personally?

DR: This is without a doubt a very emotional moment. It was a long wait for those of us who wanted to enter the courtroom, and an hour more for the jury to enter the room. I was reflecting on how long it felt to wait those 4 hours, which is nothing in the face of the 35 years that relatives of those who died inside the Spanish Embassy waited for the court to recognize the case and hand down a verdict. This case, like the genocide trial, has given us much hope that the cases of human rights violations during the armed conflict can achieve justice.

 
 

Guatemala News Update: October 13-17

Process for the Election of Judges in Guatemala in Question

At least 80 actions have been filed with the Constitutional Court related to the process of selecting the magistrates for Guatemala’s Supreme Court and appeals courts.

The United Nations, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and several national and international organizations have requested that the Constitutional Court (CC) order a repeat of the process from the very beginning, alleging that there were various violations of the law which governs the process. The CC also ordered that until it is able to rule on the actions, the appointment of the new magistrates is suspended, and the existing magistrates will remain in their positions.

In addition, one judge who was appointed to a court of appeals, Claudia Escobar, resigned in protest claiming that she had been pressured by a member of Congress, Gudy Rivera, to rule in favor of Vice President Roxana Baldetti and the ruling Patriot Party in exchange for the appointment to the court. In response, the CICIG requested the Rivera’s immunity from prosecution be removed.

In a separate process, two lawyers have been charged with abuse of power with the Third Appeals Court Judge, Erick Gustavo Santiago de Leon. The Public Prosecutors Office alleges that the attorneys offered Santiago de Leon Q16 million to reduce a fine for a company from Q93 million to Q3 million. Meanwhile, the magistrate was reelected to the appeals court. Continue reading

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