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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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November 17, 2021
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!
December 14, 2021
We wrote to officials in the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) of Guatemala to express our disappointment that it has not resolved the 15-year controversy surrounding the El Fénix nickel mine in El Estor, Izabal Department. On December 10, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) announced that the community consultation process on the mine was officially completed and that mining operations could resume in January 2022. This is preposterous. The consultation—a process which normally takes at least a year to complete—was conducted in just over three months, during the majority of which the community of El Estor was under a state of siege (cf our letter of November 21, 2021). The Xinka Parliament, the Q’eqchi’ Ancestral Council, the Defensoría Q’eqchi’, and the El Estor Fisherman’s Guild have all refused to recognize the rushed and inadequate consultation process. We urging that MEM suspend the mining license until there is a new consultation process that includes the legitimate ancestral authorities who have been elected by their communities and representatives of the Fishermen’s Guild.
December 8, 2021
“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.
December 3, 2021
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.”
November 22, 2021
We wrote to the attorney general of Guatemala for the second day in a row about more state violence in El Estor. On November 16 the Guatemalan National Police (PNC) forcibly evicted 96 Maya Q’eqchi’ families from Chinebal, in the southern region of El Estor municipality, Izabal Department, which has been under a government-declared state of siege since October 23. The Maya Q’eqchi’ families of Chinebal have resided and farmed on this land at the foot of the Sierra de las Minas mountain range since the 1940s. The eviction (police bulldozing homes, burning families’ personal belongings) stemmed from a longstanding land dispute over rightful ownership of the Palestina Chinebal farm. Businessman Juan Maegeli leases portions of the land to the NaturAceites company to grow African palm trees for palm oil production. Palm plantations are now covering 9% of arable land in Izabal.
November 21, 2021
In our letter to the attorney general of Guatemalan, we joined the voices of our RRN members with organizations from around the world to denounce the state of siege declared by the government of Guatemala and repression carried out against the local indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ community in El Estor, Izabal Department. Since October 4, residents have been organizing a highway blockade to prevent the passage of machinery on its way to the El Fénix nickel mine, which has been operating illegally since 2005. Police have implemented tactics of intimidation and repression over the past several weeks. Local residents—along with journalists reporting on the protests—have been tear-gassed, beaten and threatened by the excessive number of agents of the National Police and military deployed to the area. Police are enforcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Roads in and out of El Estor are controlled by military road-blocks. Lake Izabal is patrolled by naval boats. Drones are flown to monitor neighborhoods and movement of local residents. Tear gas is fired not only at demonstrators but into people’s homes. Some indigenous leaders and journalists have been arrested. Security agents have also been confiscating cellular phones of the residents and journalists to prevent documentation of the events.Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have denounced the state of siege, but the violence continues.
November 15, 2021
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).
October 28, 2021
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.”
October 28, 2021
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.
October 11, 2021
The government of Guatemala is using the National Police (PNC) to intimidate the local Mayan Q’eqchi’ community in El Estor, Izabal Department, which has been organizing opposition to the El Fénix nickel mine for several years. Mining operations are causing contamination of local waterways, namely Lake Izabal. In 2019, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala ruled that the Guatemalan Nickel Company should suspend mining operations until a process of consultation with the local indigenous community is conducted (as required by national and international law). On September 27, 2021 the Ancestral Council of Maya Q’eqchi’ Authorities filed an appeal against Alberto Pimentel Mata, the Minister of Energy and Mines, for his management and bad faith in the pre-consultation process. On October 4, the community set up a road blockade to stop the passage of mining machinery. On October 6, the Guatemalan National Police threatened to evict 94 families (many of them participants of the blockade) from their homes and properties. We are urging that the government (1) issue an order to suspend mining operations, and (2) respect the right of the local Q’eqchi’ community to organize opposition to the mining operations.