Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Organizations in defense of territory denounce violence against their communities

Late Sunday night, around 10:30PM, father and daughter activists involved in the resistance against Tahoe Resources' Escobal Mine, Edwin Alex Reynoso and Merilyn Topacio Reynoso, were attacked by unknown suspects. Alex and Topacio were on their way home from Matequescuintla after attending an activity there. Topacio was shot and killed; Alex was severely wounded and remains in intensive care. While details of the attack against Alex and Topacio remain unclear, the incident forms part of a larger pattern of recent violent acts and intimidation against those who defend their right to life and territory. 

Out of the ongoing repression and criminalization of peaceful communities, resistances across Guatemala have united to denounce the reality in which they live and demand respect for their human rights.

Communities in Resistance from San Juan Sacatepéquez, San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, San Rafael Las Flores and Mataquescuintala, the Xinca Parliament, Communities of Monte Olivo, the Coordination and National Convergence Maya Waqib’Kej and the Indigenous, Peasant and Popular March express that:

The current government headed by President of the Republic Otto Pérez Molina has increased violence in order to comply with commitments made with the oligarchy and transnational companies. The acts of terror, repression and criminalization during his administration can only be compared to the military violence enacted during the counterinsurgency war against our people. Said repression is directed toward pacific social struggles that indigenous peoples and social organizations maintain in defense of territory.

This policy serves the diverse interests of transnational companies behind the mining extractive industry, hydroelectric dams and monoculture crops. This past year, community leaders, women, men, youth, small children, and social leaders have been subject to many human rights violations, including states of siege, provocations, intimidations, threats, legal persecutions, illegal detentions, abductions and even assassinations of community leaders.

In order to carry out this repression, the government has made available all state agencies to protect the interests of transnational companies, ignoring the first principle of its mandate which is to protect and guarantee life to the people of Guatemala, with the common good being its supreme goal.

Communities like Monte Olivo in Cobán, Alta Verapaz; Sierra de las Minas in El Estor, Izabal; San José del Golfo; San Pedro Ayampuc; San Rafael las Flores; Mataquescuintla; San Juan Sacatepéquez; San Miguel Ixtahuacán; Sipacapa, San Marcos; Santa Cruz Quiché; and Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango represent some of the communities that are persecuted and attacked.

The 12 communities of San Juan Sacatepéquez, since 2006, continue their strong struggle in defense of territory against the arrival of the cement company in their communities without their consent, as indicated by law. The company, [Cementos Progresos], threatens to construct a highway to connect the cement factory to the InterAmerican Highway….

The Xinca People have been subject to all human rights violations described above. In 2013, a state of siege was established in the department of Jalapa, affecting the indigenous communities of Santa María Xalapan and Mataquescuintla, and the municipalities of Casillas and San Rafael las Flores in the department of Santa Rosa. This type of measure, similar to those in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango and San Juan Sacatepéquez, demonstrates diverse human rights violations to men, women and children….

San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, last March 2, commemorated the second anniversary of the “La Puya” peaceful opposition, an example of resistance, struggle and love in search of the defense of water, life and territory.

Recently, the La Puya peaceful resistance was subject to new attacks and confrontations by the mining company, with intimidations and under the protective arm of the National Civil Police (PNC).  The community members, who have exercised their legitimate right to pacific social protest in defense of territory, continue to fear eviction by the PNC….

The community “Ninth of February” in the region of Monte Olivo in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, this past April 8, was witness to a new attack on community leaders by large-scale farmer Sandino Ponce and his armed security guard, who wounded five men, one boy and a pregnant woman….

The Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) has suffered a series of attacks that total 44 assassinations amongst members of its organization between 2000 and 2014. Since 2011, assassinations, threats, forced evictions, criminalization, detentions and imprisonment have increased. Smear campaigns, defamation and slander join these techniques that try to delegitimize 36 years of struggle….

Before this reality of repression in which each of the above-mentioned communities lives, we DEMAND:

That the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, the High Commissioner’s Human Rights Office, CICIG, including the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, speak out and demand of the Guatemalan state that it fulfill its obligation to guarantee the right to life, physical integrity and other fundamental rights to the Guatemalan people, before this new repressive attack by clandestine groups and private security companies that generate abductions, death threats, assassinations, threats and intimidations against our communities.

That the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office monitor, accompany and protect the physical integrity and life of the families that find themselves threatened and persecuted, and also protect human rights defenders and those who defend Mother Earth.

That the government of Guatemala immediately withdraw National Army forces from the communities in resistance, we especially demand withdrawal from Santa Maria Xalapan and San Juan Sacatepéquez.

The closure of extractive industry companies and the termination of turning over national territory to the hands of transnational companies.

That international human rights organizations, indigenous organizations, peasant organizations, women’s organizations, unions and solidarity groups not be surprised by defamation campaigns and slander. These campaign principally aim to criminalize communities and organizations in order to delegitimize them and facilitate their criminal prosecution.

In these moments, in which we are once again living massacres, abductions, assassinations, states of prevention and states of siege, similar to wartime but with elements of criminalization and criminal prosecution, we demand launching a visibilization campaign of what happens in our country and more importantly, a campaign of permanent solidarity.

12 Communities in Resistance from San Juan Sacatepéquez
Communities in Resistance from San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc
Xinca Parliament
Indigenous, Peasant and Popular March
Coordination and National Convergence Maya Waqib’Kej

Stand in solidarity with the peaceful resistance at La Puya, which was threatened by heavy machinery and riot police last week and continues to fear eviction.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Urgent Action from La Puya: Call for an End to Police Intimidation and Eviction Threats

The National Police, at the service of US mining company Kappes Cassiday and Associates (KCA), have been carrying out acts of intimidation and threatening eviction against communities in resistance at La Puya, just north of Guatemala City. Early April 9, a local company contracted by KCA, Transmac S.A., arrived at the mine site with heavy machinery, and with a National Civil Police (PNC) escort as ordered by the Ministry of the Interior. By mid-day, Transmac was forced to remove the machinery from the area. However, two representatives of KCA’s local subsidiary, EXMINGUA, remained throughout the day. The police presence also stayed and increased. By 2 pm, there were roughly 300 agents, many of whom were women dressed in full riot gear, lined up outside the entrance to the peaceful encampment.

The massive police presence, particularly the presence of female agents, gave the impression that an eviction attempt was imminent. Hundreds of people gathered at La Puya spent the afternoon under intense pressure and fear. While an arrest warrant was never emitted and the PNC made no attempt to remove the encampment, there is a clear intent to intimidate and provoke confrontation with the population in peaceful resistance.

The communities opposing KCA's El Tambor gold mine have made clear that their actions are focused on stopping a project that will destroy their lives and livelihoods. They are not blocking the public road or impeding free transit. The communities maintain their willingness to dialogue with the government.

Excessive police presence continues in areas surrounding La Puya and there is concern that a violent eviction will be attempted in the near future.

Take Action!

Call and email Kappes Cassiday and Associates CEO, Dan Kappes, and the Ministry of the Interior in Guatemala now:
  • Express your concern for the safety of the men, women and children in peaceful resistance;
  • Demand an end to intimidation and harassment by police and private security, and respect for human rights;
  • Urge respect for the ongoing dialogue and No to eviction of La Puya. 

Kappes Cassiday and Associates
Dan Kappes - kca@kcareno.com
Ryan Adams – radams@kcareno.com
US Phone (775) 972- 7575

Ministry of the Interior
Minister Mauricio López Bonilla - fdeleon@mingob.gob.gt
Guatemala Phone (011) 502-2413-8888

Accusations of anomalies and corruption place contract for Xalalá Dam studies in question

Following the "emergency contract" for geological feasibility studies signed between Guatemala's National Electrification Institute (INDE) and Brazilian company Intertechne Consultores S.A. last November, communities organized against the Xalalá Dam publicized the controversial transaction and undertook strategic meetings in Guatemala City to draw attention to the contract. One Congressman and President of the Congressional Integrity Commission with whom the communities met, Amílcar Pop, denounced anomalies and called for an investigation of the contract granting process. 

The Congressional Integrity Commission meets with INDE in a public hearing.
Photo: El Periódico

On April 7, the Congressional Integrity Commission carried out a hearing at the request of the General Comptroller's Office (CGC) to present numerous irregularities in the license granting process between INDE and Intertechne. In a detailed account of the anomalies, the CGC explained that the contract with Intertechne was signed before the company was registered to operate in Guatemala. Intertechne did not establish a local subsidiary until January 29, 2014, 60 days later. The CGC also denounced the direct payment and contracting of the Brazilian company by INDE instead of going through the Public Procurement Law, as required. 

The same law states that down payments paid to companies by the state should not exceed 20% of the total cost. According to the CGC, in this case, INDE paid $1.4 million to Intertechne, instead of the approximately $995 thousand required by law based on the total contract value. The CGC also denounced the weak and questionable terms of the contract, which states that the company cannot be evaluated and that it guarantees that the outcomes and requirements will favor INDE. Congressman Pop called for the reversal of the transaction in order to recuperate partial payment for the contract, already delivered to the Brazilian company, which he considers to have been spent illegally. 

Finally, the inquiry reached back to the bidding phase, during which two processes, in 2007 and 2012, were abandoned due to a lack of interest on the part of the companies. The CGC pointed out that during the second process in 2012, INDE required interested companies to pay $10,000 just to participate, which unsurprisingly discouraged all possible bidders. The lack of interest in the contract was one of the principal excuses employed by INDE manager Marinus Boer to justify the need for the “emergency contract” process with Intertechne. The CGC went on to point out that the decision lacked an evaluation of the company's capacity to carry out the geological study.  

Former INDE manager Marinus Boer resigned late last week, just before the Congressional Integrity Commission hearing, citing personal problems. His replacement, Jorge Stalling, assured that despite the accusations the contract will not be suspended. Auditors are continuing to investigate and plan to present the case to the Attorney General's office in order to file a formal, penal accusation. 

According to the Legal Assistance Anti-corruption Office (Alac) and Prensa Libre, INDE has been accused of making other irregular purchases totaling more than $11 million in 2013 alone. Alac noted having received “constant complaints” regarding contracts awarded by INDE during the administration of previous general manager, Marinus Boer. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Say No to State Department funds for Guatemalan Army

"We need more teachers and not military brigades." Photo: PrensaComunitaria
Guatemala’s UN Truth Commission report not only attributes 93% of all human rights violations and acts of violence to the Guatemalan State, which included over 600 massacres, it also finds the US responsible for playing a large role in providing military assistance and training to the Guatemalan Army during the conflict. It was not until 1990, seven years after the most violent period of Guatemala's internal armed conflict, that the US enacted a full ban on Department of State aid to the Guatemalan Army. Over the past two decades, restrictions on the ban have been weakened. Now, we face the possibility of seeing the restrictions lifted completely.

Currently, State Department funds may only go to the Guatemalan Army if the Secretary of State certifies that the Army:
  1. Has a narrowly defined mission focused on border security and external threats, and a credible plan to end the Army’s involvement in internal law enforcement.
  2. Cooperates with civilian investigations and prosecutions of human rights cases involving current and retired military officers.
  3. Publicly discloses all military archival documents related to the internal armed conflict in a timely manner in response to requests by civilian judicial authorities.
In addition, this year, the US Congress approved special conditions for reinstatement of aid, contingent upon the Guatemalan government taking credible steps toward implementing the 2010 reparations plan for the communities affected by the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. Over 3,000 people were affected by the dam, including 444 people massacred and several communities completely inundated when the dam was built in the early 1980s.

Otto Pérez Molina in Santa Cruz Barillas with soldiers and special forces Kaibiles.
Photo: Simone Dalmass
The persecution, criminalization and repression carried out by Otto Pérez Molina’s military government and the Guatemalan state aim to minimize or put an end to the opposition to the implementation of mining exploitation projects.  --- Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) 

Why should the US maintain restrictions on military aid?

  • Survivors have not seen justice for the atrocities carried out by the military. This neglect has been demonstrated by survivors of the Guatemalan genocide who have filed a complaint in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the Guatemalan State for the denial of justice to witnesses involved in the genocide trial
  • Peaceful communities have suffered military repression, and leaders are increasingly criminalized for their work defending human rights, territory and natural resources.
  • Guatemala clearly does not meet conditions necessary to receive military aid defined by the US Department of State, as the Guatemalan Army expands its role in law enforcement, and refuses to disclose some documents related to the internal armed conflict.

Download NISGUA's Background on US Military Aid to Guatemala for additional information. Print our petition in English or Spanish, circulate it in your community and mail to: NISGUA PO Box 70494 Oakland, CA 94612.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Guatemalan organization express their solidarity with Yassmín Barrios


To the people of Guatemala and to the international community, we express our total indignation of the decision emitted by the ethics tribunal of the Guatemalan Bar Association that attempts to penalize Judge Yassmín Barrios Aguilar.

The Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala establishes in Article 203 that "The magistrates and judges are independent in carrying out his or her duties and are subject only to the Constitution of the Republic and the Law..." In the same article it indicates that: "No other authority can intervene in the administration of justice." We thus believe that the above-mentioned decision [of the Bar Association] goes against the Constitutional principles and puts the Guatemalan justice system at great risk.

By ignoring the principle of judicial independence and condemning a judge for exercising her constitutional duty, one of the fundamental pillars of the Rule of Law is made vulnerable.

Guatemala bore witness that during the trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, Judge Yassmín Barrios Aguilar was respectful of the law, despite the constant instances of disrespect and threats publicly expressed against her. Newspaper, television and radio publications provide evidence of who lacked respect and ethics, not only for the court and its presiding judge, but also for the people of the Republic of Guatemala, to whom justice is rendered.

We express our solidarity and recognition of Judge Yassmín Barrios Aguilar for her exemplary service to the Guatemalan justice system, as well as her long trajectory and hard work in defense of judicial independence.

We call on all judges to not give in to the intimidations, pressures and persecutions from sectors which, feeling powerful, want their actions to remain in impunity, and therefore seek the complicity of institutions that should be at the service of the nation and not [at the service of] perverse interests. 

The victims and survivors of genocide urge lawyers, professionals and the general public to speak out against this resolution.

Guatemala, April 7, 2014.

Association for Justice and Reconciliation - AJR, Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of Violence in the Vera Paz Provinces, Maya-Achí -ADIVIMA, Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Guatemala - FAMDEGUA, Truth and Justice Association - AVEJA, Truth and Life Association, Sanjuaneras Women's Association - AGIMS, Maya Lawyers Association of Guatemala, Departmental Association of Youth from Sololá -KAJI B'ATZ', Political Association of Maya Women - MOLOJ, Human Rights Law Office of Guatemala, Center for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences - CAFCA, International Center for Human Rights Research - CIIDH, Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action - CALAS, Center for Human Rights Legal Action - CALDH, Collective Artesana, Campesino Unity Committee - CUC, National Coordination of Widows - CONAVIGUA, Genocide Never Again Coalition, National Convergence Maya Waqib'Kej, Religious Confederation of Guatemala - CONFREGUA, Christian Women's Council, Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team - ECAP, Amancio Villatorio Foundation, Guilermo Toriello Foundation, Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation, HIJOS Guatemala, Guatemalan Institute of Comparative Penal Studies - ICCPG, DEMOS Institute, Monseñor Gerardi Movement, Maya Youth Movement - MOJOMAYAS, Women Transforming the World, Security and Democracy - SEDEM, The Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit - UDEFEGUA, National Guatemalan Women's Union - UNAMG

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Interview with Judge Yassmín Barrios: “The door to impunity and corruption is being opened”

Interview originally published by El Periódico in Spanish. Translation by NISGUA.

Judge Yassmín Barrios
Photo: El Periódico

Judge Iris Yassmín Barrios, presiding judge of the High Risk Crimes Court A, refers to the decision handed down against her last week by the Ethics Tribunal of the Guatemalan Bar Association (CANG in Spanish), in which her professional duties are suspended for a year and she is fined Q 5,040.

Said sanction was motivated by [a complaint filed by] lawyer Moisés Galindo, who felt “humiliated” during the course of the genocide trial against former generals José Efraín Ríos Montt, former Head of State, and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, former Director of Military Intelligence.

What do you think about the decision of the Bar Association Ethics Tribunal?
-It is an unjust and illegal decision that exceeds its jurisdiction. The competent body to review and rule on judges’ actions is the Disciplinary Board of the Judicial Body. The Board is responsible for carrying out a review   in the instance that a judge commits an error, and can then emit a resolution.

If the Ethics Tribunal doesn’t have competence, what actions will be taken?
-In the coming days, you will hear about the actions that follow.

Lawyer Moisés Galindo argued that he felt humiliated when you ordered him to defend the accused (Efrain Ríos Montt)?
-There are many things that are important to clarify. In the first place, no one was ever humiliated. I’m very respectful of others, of their human rights and their jurisdictional activities. There are court proceedings, as well as videos, through which one can see that he was never disrespected.

Secondly, the Disciplinary Board already emitted a resolution related to these same events, in April of last year, in which it rejected the arguments. Also, during the trial  [the defense lawyers] presented grounds for our impeachment, but the arguments were declared irrelevant. Thus, the resolution emitted by the Ethics Tribunal is out of order.

You recently received recognition from the First Lady of the United States. Was it motivated by the genocide trial?
-No. It was in recognition of my entire career as a judge. I don’t know why people have focused only on this sentence. It’s necessary to review my entire career, the cases and sentences I’ve ruled on.

I’ve been a part of various court cases. For example, the case of the assassination of Monsignor Juan Gerardi, the case of Myrna Mack, the massacre of Dos Erres, the massacre of Plan de Sánchez, the case of Rodrigo Rosenberg, and a large quantity of assassinations, abductions or kidnappings. It is not just for [the genocide] sentence, it’s for my entire judicial career; I’m talking about 18 years. There are thousands of sentences.

It is believed that the Ethics Tribunal is politicized. What is your opinion?
-More important than what I could say, is the analysis that others make. What I can say is that I’ve never been lacking in ethics, that my actions are honest; I can keep my head high and know that I have never done anyone harm. What I have done is fight for the administration of justice and to return, to all Guatemalan citizens, the credibility of the [justice] system. I have demonstrated that there are still honest judges in the Judicial Body. That there are capable people, obedient only to the Constitution and the laws, to no one else.

What is at risk for the judicial system if the resolution is upheld and you are suspended for a year?
-What is at risk is judicial independence and the rule of law.  What does that mean? That anyone without grounds can go and accuse a judge in order to avoid being tried, that the door to impunity and corruption is being opened.

Judicial independence and the rule of law should be respected in our country. Punishing honest judges through illegal mechanisms shouldn’t be allowed because it deteriorates the justice system. No judge should be punished for his or her resolutions. Procedural appeals exist to respond to displeasure over a resolution. 

Judicial independence is a guarantee, not just for the judge, but so that the Guatemalan people can count on honest and dignified judges, to whom they can present their cases and be assured they are tried with adherence to the Constitution and the law without favoritisms, neither economic nor political. It is a guarantee for the people before it is a guarantee for the judge.

Peaceful blockade in Barillas celebrates one-year anniversary

Tired of being ignored and disrespected by the Guatemalan government, and determined to halt a hydroelectric project approved without their free, prior and informed consent, the men and women of Santa Cruz Barillas founded the peaceful blockade, Nuevo Amanecer on April 6, 2013. Nuevo Amanecer, or New Dawn, is a permanent encampment located on a communal road leading to the proposed project site where community members maintain a constant presence. The bold action has served to halt the construction of the Canbalam Dam, owned by Spanish company Hidralia Energia and its Guatemalan subsidiary Hidro Santa Cruz.

Nuevo Amanecer celebrates its one year anniversary. Photo: PrensaComunitaria

Last Sunday, members of the resistance celebrated the one-year anniversary of Nuevo Amanecer and reiterated their commitment to continuing the peaceful opposition to the project. 

“While 365 suns and moons, and 8,760 hours have gone by [since establishing the peaceful encampment], the People continue to remain hopeful and committed to the struggle, despite immense sacrifices and hardships.” - Press Release from the Plurinational Government and the Western Peoples' Council (CPO), April 2014

Communities and leaders at the forefront of the resistance movement have suffered an onslaught of criminalization, repression and violence at the hands of the Guatemalan state, which instead of protecting the interests of the people, has time and again acted in defense of the Spanish company.

The costs suffered by the communities and families that stand to be impacted by the project have been high. Two community leaders have been killed since May 1, 2012 and three others, Saúl Méndez, Rogelio Velásquez and Mynor López, remain in prison facing charges related to the opposition to the Canbalam Dam. Eleven additional members of the resistance have collectively spent more than one year in preventative prison on accusations filed against them by the company, which were later dismissed.

As the conflict caused by the imposition of mega-projects in Huehuetenango drags on, international solidarity with communities and individuals standing up for their right to self determination continues to be vitally important and appreciated. Last year, NISGUA and partners gathered nearly than 3,0000 signatures demanding the release of political prisoner, Rubén Herrera. Spanish solidarity organization and members of the International Accompaniment Project in Guatemala (ACOGUATE), Plataforma de solidaridad con Chiapas y Guatemala de Madrid, launched an online popular consultation in support of communities in Northern Huehuetenango resisting the imposition of large-scale projects. Nearly 2,000 people echoed the results of local referenda saying NO to the instalation of mega-projects and YES to communities' right to self determination.

Plataforma submits their consultation results to the Guatemalan Embassy in Madrid.

"The Q'anjob'al and Mestizo People of Barillas infinitely thank the national and international solidarity of many individuals and organizations that have unconditionally reached out to us in this struggle. We also believe that this struggle affects us all and for this reason we say WE ARE ALL BARILLAS."
- Press Release from the Plurinational Government and the Western Peoples' Council (CPO), April 2014

NISGUA and ACOGUATE work closely with partners in Huehuetango in their efforts to defend the right to consultation, promote self-determination and stand up for human rights in the region.