Monday, August 24, 2015

Despite the arrest of former VP Roxana Baldetti, President Otto Pérez Molina says he won't step down

On Friday, the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and Public Prosecutor's office revealed evidence connecting Guatemala President Otto Pérez Molina to the massive customs corruption network known as La Línea. Prosecutors have filed a legal motion to strip Pérez Molina of his presidential immunity – the second action of its kind to be filed in the last 3 months. 

For the eighteenth week in a row, protesters from across the country took to the streets to demand the President's resignation. At least of 16 members of his cabinet and other high-level posts have resigned; 11 did so after new evidence was released on Friday directly implicating the president. As Pérez Molina's government crumbled around him Sunday night, he dug in his heels - refusing to step down and proclaiming his innocence in a televised address.

Despite being more isolated than ever, the President remained combative in his address, denouncing foreign intervention and alluding that powerful economic interests from the Chamber of Commerce (CACIF) are conspiring against him. During the speech, which is being described as a “declaration of war" against CACIF, Pérez Molina threatened to push Guatemala even closer to the edge of complete political turmoil as nation-wide strikes and ongoing protests are expected to ramp up this week.

Wiretaps, emails, and other documents revealed on Friday and presented as evidence in court this morning accuse former Vice President Roxana Baldetti and President Pérez Molina of heading the criminal structure La Línea. The customs fraud network is believe to have stolen more than 8 million quetzals. In the wiretaps, Molina and Baldetti are referred to as “the 1”, “the 2”, “the head of the plantation”, and "the mera mera (the head honcho)." In a Monday morning interview, Attorney General Thelma Aldana made clear that the President himself was caught on tape communicating with the criminal network.

Above tweets:  In wiretaps where the President is identified, the public prosecutor states, "It is inevitable, because his telephone has not been tapped." 1/2; But he communicates with the criminal structure, who have their telephones tapped, and we heard him." 2/2

On Friday, the public prosecutor immediately filed a request to strip the President of his immunity, while Baldetti was arrested and transferred from the private hospital where she had sought refuge to Matamoros military prison in zone 1 of Guatemala City. While Matamoros has been exclusively for male prisoners, a reform published this morning - three days after Baldetti was arrested - changed the rules to allow women. 

The first attempt to remove Pérez Molina's immunity was filed by Congressman Amilcar Pop in June and was unanimously accepted by the Supreme Court. And while a congressional investigative commission recommended stripping immunity and opening the president up to a full investigation, the recommendation only earned 88 of the 105 congressional votes necessary to proceed. This decision was rejected by protesters and political analysts alike – further evidence that the political system is irrevocably broken and electoral reforms are absolutely necessary. 

The latest request to strip President Molina of his immunity will likely be accepted by the Supreme Court, although questions remain as to how Congress will react. Some believe that Pérez Molina's surprising decision to stay in power hinges on his belief that his allies - including presidential hopeful Manuel Baldizón and other Molina supporters who make up the LIDER-Partido Patriota alliance - will save him from immediate prosecution by maintaining his presidential immunity.

In the meantime, Guatemalans remain vigilant as rumors circulate that the President will attempt to flee the country. Citizens presented a legal action Sunday morning requiring a judge to physically locate Pérez after the president failed to appear in public for 48 hours. He was eventually located mid-day Sunday at the Presidential Palace in zone 1.

Roxana Baldetti's arraignment hearing took place Monday morning, during which time the prosecution laid out the groundwork for its case against the former Vice President. She is accused of illicit association, passive bribery and special cases of customs fraud for her involvement in the La Línea.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Take Action: Call on the U.S. Embassy to stand up for political prisoners Saúl and Rogelio

On September 1, Barillas land defenders Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez will stand trial again for accessory to murder. Citing serious irregularities and major errors in the initial trial earlier this year that condemned both men to 33 years and 4 months in prison, a Special Appeals court ruled on May 15 to annul the sentence and ordered the case be retried.

Both men have spoken out against the imposition of hydroelectric dams in their home in northern Huehuetenango and, like many other leaders, are now feelings the effects of a pattern of criminalization that has increased dramatically over the past few years. 

TAKE ACTION to help ensure Saúl and Rogelio get a fair trial!

Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez, during their Special
Appeal trial. Photo: Gustavo Illescas (CMI-Guatemala)
Currently, six other men from Huehuetenango are detained and awaiting trial for outlandish legal charges that include terrorism and kidnapping - all are active community leaders who have organized to demand respect for their right to consultation regarding the imposition of mega-development projects in their territory. Across the United States, members of the NISGUA base are writing letters of encouragement to all of the leaders from Huehuetenango currently imprisoned for standing up for life. Click here to send a message of solidarity to the political prisoners and let them know they are not alone.

For more information, read NISGUA's report on the movement for community referenda on mining and hydroelectric dams and the corresponding trend of criminalizing leaders standing up against unjust resource extraction. 

Both Saúl and Rogelio are accused of being accomplices in the assassination of Guadalupe Francisco and Mateo Diego Simón, killed by a mob of roughly 500 people in 2010. Despite serious holes in the prosecution's evidence - including shaky witness testimonies and an inability to place both men at the scene of the crime - a Huehuetenango court found both men guilty of being accomplices to murder in February 2015. Saúl and Rogelio were previously detained from May 2012 – January 2013, accused by Spanish company, Hidro Santa Cruz of causing disturbances associated with the assassination of community member Andrés Francisco Miguel, on May 1 2012. 

The retrial will open on September 1 and is expected to take a month and a half. If everything moves forward as scheduled, the sentencing hearing will take place on October 13, 2015. 

Family members of the accused are calling for an international presence at the retrial, including from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, as one way to ensure that Saúl and Rogelio get a fair trial. TAKE ACTION! Call on the U.S. Embassy to recognize the intentional manipulation of the Guatemalan justice system by transnational corporations, and observe the retrial. All signatures will be collected before August 21 to be turned in to the Embassy prior to the start of the retrial on September 1.