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. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

For there to be peace in Barillas...

Original article posted on CMI-Guatemala in Spanish on August 11, 2015.
Written by Alba Cecilia Mérida
Translation by NISGUA

Juanita López from Santa Eulalia, wife of Domingo Baltazar
Photo: Roderico Díaz (CMI-Guatemala)
On August 8, beneath the energy and protection of Kawok - symbolizing the strength of unity and wisdom - hundreds of women, men, boys, girls, youth, and the elderly gathered in the central park of Santa Cruz Barillas to celebrate life and come together for an Artistic-Cultural Gathering for Peace in Santa Cruz Barillas and Freedom for Political Prisoners. 

Youth from Huehuetenango paint posts in Barillas.
Photo: Gustavo Illescas (CMI-Guatemala)
This gathering is a continuation of many other encounters, caravans, demonstrations, and political actions that have taken place over the years. But now, more than ever, these actions are demanding the timely release of our compañeros from northern Huehuetenango who are being held as political prisoners: Don Tello Villatoro, Don Chico Palas, Arturo Pablo, Saúl Méndez, Rogelio Velásquez, Mynor López, Ermitanio López, as well as Rigoberto Juárez and Domingo Baltazar, from Santa Eulalia.

The gathering began on Friday, August 7 when 108 people departed from Guatemala City, Totonicapán, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, and from various municipalities of Huehuetenango. Friends from other countries came to join the gathering, where musicians, singers, artists, poets, dancers, rappers, rockers, jugglers, alternative journalists, and other researchers poured all of our creativity and hope into one single demand: FREEDOM for our People. 

From left to right: Tito Medina (Guatemala), Alfredo Rafael (San
Juan Ixcoy), Juan Pablo Ozaeta (Guatemala) and Byron Sosa
(Quetzaltenango). Photo: Gustavo Illescas (CMI-Guatemala)

The day was a gift from our Mother Earth; we felt joy, the sun, art, the wind, dignity. We felt the strength of each person who joined us before [the caravan] left for Barillas. Their support, generosity and solidarity were fundamental in being able to say to the people of Barillas: "Here we are. You are not alone. We are not alone." In the strict sense, those of us who attended the gathering were not giving, supporting or helping; on the contrary, with our presence, we were returning the sacrifices made by the people of Barillas, Santa Eulalia and others in the region. It is they who have experienced first-hand the merciless attacks by the corporate criminal, Hidro Santa Cruz. 

At one moment during the day, Juan Aguirre, one of the singers at the gathering, told Doña Ana Molina, the wife of Don Tello Villatoro: "I cannot come close to imagining your suffering." Yet when he sang, he reminded us that dreams can become reality and that these dreams are enough to encourage us to not back down from the struggle each of us carry or from the struggle that depends on each of us.

Rock group "Perro con Alas." Photo: Gustavo Illescas (CMI-Guatemala)
The Artistic-Cultural Gathering for Peace in Santa Cruz Barillas and for Freedom for Political Prisoners included the participation of people from the grassroots and from all four corners. This movement has been articulate and mindful, and has presented creative proposals that rise above the oppression imposed by systems that promote death: political parties, transnational companies, racism, and the State of Guatemala, which at all costs, seeks to crush any sign of the dignity of our peoples. 

At different moments throughout the day, we couldn't hold back our tears. One such moment was when Mónica Castañeda, Arturo Pablo's wife, cried when she emphatically said "I know my Arturo. He has only defended his people. That's why they have imprisoned him."

Mónica Castañeda, wife of the teacher Arturo Pablo.
Photo: Roderico Díaz (CMI-Guatemala)
Other moments, only some of us were able to experience. Don Pablo Antonio Pablo was speaking with Rubén, and when I saw them speaking in hushed voices I asked, "What happened?" Rubén said, "He is very sad." And Don Pablo cried, and cried, and cried for his son. All he could say was "I am sad for my Arturo, but I bless you because you are here with us." I saw a man sitting on a corner for several hours. I saw him nodding along to many of the things that were being said, and at one point, he came over to me and said, "I am Saúl's father. I came to get to know those who are supporting my son." The tears overflowed and the deep sadness swept across the park for each one of the sons, husbands, brothers, grandfathers who are now absent because they are imprisoned. 

Once more, the wives and other family members of the political prisoners showed the deep love they have for and can give to the defense of their life partners. The composure and the strength Doña Ana, Doña Priscila, Doña Guadalupe, Doña Juanita, Carmelia, Zenaida, Juanita, and Mónica possess is a source of inspiration and encourages us to continue to accompany them.

The messages of peaceful resistance from the people of Barillas in the face of repression from Hidro Santa Cruz were overwhelmingly clear: "We want Peace. We respect Mother Earth. We don't want any more plundering or violence." More than once, people repeated the phrase: "There is no price on our dignity."

Doña Guadalupe, wife of Don Chico Palas.
Photo: Roderico Díaz (CMI-Guatemala)

Each artistic performance moved us. Seldom are we able to connect the energy of those of us who need to live life with intensity and fullness, but this connection of energy took place throughout that beautiful day. I'll close these few words now with a poem written by Eulalia Hermelinda, an 11-year-old girl from Santa Cruz Barillas. She wrote about what needs to happen so that we all can have peace.


For there to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.

For there to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.

For there to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbors.

For there to be peace between neighbors,

There must be peace in the homes.

For there to be peace in the homes,

There must be peace in the hearts.

For there to be peace in Barillas,

The Political Prisoners must return to their homes. 

Members of the women's group Akabal. Left: poet Eulalia Hermelinda.
Photo: Roderico Díaz (CMI-Guatemala)