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Guatemala: News & Updates

Guatemala had the longest and bloodiest civil war in Central American history: 36 years (1960-96). The US-backed military was responsible for a genocide (“scorched earth policy”) that wiped out 200,000 mostly Maya indigenous civilians.  War criminals are still being tried in the courts.

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Thank you to the more than 120 people who attended the IRTF annual Commemoration of the Martyrs online on Sunday, November 7. You helped to create a beautiful and moving tribute to human rights defenders throughout southern Mexico, Central America, and Colombia. Here you will find links to (1) Commemoration program book 2021, (2) Zoom recording of the event, (3) Facebook livestream recording, (4) playlist from the social hour, (5) an additional play list, (6) how you can add your name to urgent human rights letters, (7) donations for the Honduras support fund, (8) IRTF Legacy Circle planned giving fund, and (9) highlights from the speakers' presentations. Thank you!
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“Although they are legally authorized to work, temporary migrant workers are among the most exploited laborers in the US workforce because employer control of their visa status leaves many powerless to defend and uphold their rights,” according to a February report from the Economic Policy Institute. The H-2A visa program creates a severe power imbalance. The system almost always ties workers to their specific employer, which means that a worker’s legal status to work depends on maintaining the job they were contracted to do. As such, workers are hesitant to speak out about deplorable working conditions due to fears of losing their legal status and facing deportation.
News Article
After reaching a deal with Mexico, the US will by 6 December start returning asylum seekers from other Latin American countries to Mexico, where they will be obliged to wait while their case is assessed. Mexico said US officials met its concerns over funding for migrant shelters, protection for vulnerable groups and access to medical checkups and Covid-19 vaccines. It also promised to take “local safety conditions” into account before accepting asylum seekers – a pledge that provoked disquiet among migrant advocates. But advocates argue that the main shortcomings of the programme are unchanged. “The violence faced by migrants in Mexico is going to outweigh any sort of promise made by the Mexican government to try to make this better,” said Linda Rivas, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. “There aren’t enough shelters. People are continuing to be kidnapped – sometimes in their own shelter … Mexico can try [to protect migrants] but the reality is Mexico doesn’t have the means of doing it.”
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In the midst of a long conflict and recent protest over a nickel mine in El Estor, in eastern Guatemala, police have carried out more than 40 raids and 60 arrests, and the government has declared a 30-day state of emergency. Indigenous Mayan opponents to the mine say they were never properly consulted about the mine and its impacts on their lands, livelihoods and lake, and protested on the town’s main road, refusing passage to mining vehicles. Four police were shot during the police crackdown on protests by what the government blames as armed protestors, although mine opponents say the assailants were not involved in the protest. There are concerns mining operations will pose environmental damages to Guatemala’s largest lake, home to diverse fish, bird, reptile and mammal species, including the endangered Guatemalan black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra).
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In July 2021, the head of the Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity in Guatemala was removed from his position. Subsequently, after fleeing the country for fear of further reprisals, Juan Francisco Sandoval stated that he had gathered evidence showing that President Alejandro Giammattei had received bribes in January from one of the companies involved in the controversial Fénix nickel mining project in El Estor (a mining project ruled illegal by a Guatemalan court in 2019 , but nevertheless continues to operate) and that for this reason he was being persecuted by the State. On October 28, Juan Francisco Sandoval was among the current and former judicial employees of Guatemala who offered testimony to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Washington-based Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA (GHRC) provided logistical support for the hearing, which focused on judicial independence in Guatemala. Various human rights organizations, including GHRC, had requested the hearing. Conclusion: citing 189 attacks and 51 legal proceedings against judicial officials, IACHR warned that complaints against judges, prosecutors, and human rights defenders reveal a context of weakening judicial independence in Guatemala. Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño explained the importance of an independent justice system, stating, “There is no rule of law if there is no judicial independence.”
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In 2017, a red slick spread over Lake Izabal, which the community blamed on pollution from a nickel mine, owned by Switzerland-based Solway Investments. In resulting protests, Cristobal Pop, 44, a fisherman was imprisoned, and his comrade Carlos Maaz shot dead. This month, the community of El Estor in Izabal Department resumed demonstrations, accusing CGN (the domestic subsidiary of Solway) of continuing to mine at El Fénix despite a 2019 Constitutional Court order for it to suspend operations. The court ruled in favor of local communities, who said they had not been consulted about the opening of the mine or its effects on them. The government was ordered to open fresh consultations, but the people of El Estor say they are being excluded.

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