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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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Time and time again, journalists are victims of violence and repression in many Central American counties. In an effort to cut the freedom of the press, governments all over the continent have implemented laws to persecute critical media and shut down news outlets, as well as obstructing access to public information and stigmatizing individuals and outlets. But this repression is only one side of the sword. In many countries journalists and reporters are targets of threats, cyber attacks and even assassinations. This constant harassment and fear of being the next one killed or imprisoned has caused many to go into exile. 

In Honduras four reporters have been killed since the beginning of 2022, a trend that has been going on for decades. Between 2001 and today 98 killings of journalists were recorded. Such violent attacks and killings usually remain without any sentence or even conviction in Honduras, a fact criticized by many. The director of the Committee for Free Expression calls this lack of punishment "enormous impunity," and the Honduras National Human Rights Commission sees the media as a victim of "extreme violence." Besides the direct violence against journalists, the state threatens the freedom of expression with laws targeting reporters, journalists and news outlets. 

The exiling of reporters takes its most excessive form in Nicaragua, where nearly 200 journalists and reporters and others have gone into exile, 23 of whom were even stripped of their citizenship. As a legal rationalization, the Nicaraguan government declared these 23 individuals as traitors to the nation. In addition to the oppression of individual people, Nicaraguan authorities have taken over the daily La Prensa, the channel 100% Noticias, the two digital magazines Confidencial and Niu, and the television programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche. 

In Guatemala, criminal persecution is the most serious threat to the free press. In that country many journalists, reporters and other media personal have been jailed. Since President Alejandro Giammattei took office in January 2020, 12 journalists and reporters critical of him have gone into exile. 

In El Salvador violence against media personnel is a regularity.According to the  Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES), 611 cases of aggression against reporters and Journalists have been recorded since the election of President Nayib Bukele in 2019. Legal reforms in the country hindering reporters and journalists in their work have led the news outlet El Faro to move to Costa Rica in mid-April. Again and again repression has  caused reporters to leave the country.  Eleven individuals were forced to exit the country and 30 were spied on with the Pegasus software, provided by Israel. Between 2021 and 2022 the government has closed down three radio stations. 

Another country cutting freedom of  the press is Panama. Here the state regularly abuses its oppressive legal system against critics. Anti-slander, and personal data protection laws are being used by authorities to set up civil and criminal lawsuits against media outlets like La Pensa daily and the digital media site Foco. The fear of being sued, and charged with millions in fines or even prison time, leads to a climate of self-censorship within the media spectrum. 

Compared to the other countries mentioned above, Costa Rica is a relatively safe harbor. In the country no journalists are reported jailed or persecuted. But even here three critical media outlets were verbally attacked by government officials.

Though these grievances have been going on for decades, the situation hasn't improved. It is important that journalists, reporters and news outlets are able to do their work safely and without having to fear persecution. We call on all Central American nations to ensure a free press and freedom of speech.         


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to IRTF’s May 2023 newsletter on Migrant Justice and the current situation at the US-Mexico border! After you’ve looked through the articles, we hope you can take a couple of minutes to see the TAKE ACTION items at the bottom. The articles in this email version are abbreviated.

In this newsletter, please read about 1. Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH; 2. ICE Air Flights: Update on Removal Flight Trends; 3 .Labor Exploitation of Unaccompanied Minors: Congress is slow to act ; 4. New Protections for Immigrant Workers; 5. At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border; 6. Effects of the end of T42 and DHS new plans for processing migrants. To read the full newsletter, see .


Here is what you can do to take action this week and act in solidarity with migrants and their families.

Tell Senator Sherrod Brown to take his name off Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s anti-asylum bill!

Bring Home Immigrants who’ve been deported from Ohio. 

Tell Congress to Protect Dreamers

News Article

Worldwide Guatemala is known to be one of the most corrupt nations in existence. This corruption is deeply rooted in the entrenched economic and political power structure controlled by a ruling elite. Over the years, many ambitious state prosecutors and judges have tried to challenge this web of corruption; most have failed.

In Guatemala opposition to the internal power system is often met with heavy state repression. Human rights defenders, journalists and justice officials are victims of false alligations and persecutions, as the ruling class weaponizes the Guatemalan justice system against them. So far 35 justice officials have gone into exile, in fear to be criminalized for their anti-corruption work, and many more are imprisoned. 

One victim of the systematic misuse of justice against opposition is the former the public prosecutor Virginia Laparra. Before her detention, Laparra was known as her work as the chief prosecutor in the 'Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity' of Guatemala (FECI). In early 2022, Guatemalan security forces detained Laparra, charging her with "abuse of authority and violation of the duty of loyalty" after filing complaints against Judge Lesther Castellanos alleging acts of corruption within the judiciary. Initially Laparra was detained together with four other female prosecutors and anti-corruption lawyers. Now, on May 9, Laparra's sentence of four years in prison was reaffirmed after being convicted in an irregular trail. To ensure that Laparra stays in prison, she is under investigation a second time, a case that is being kept confidential by order of the court. This second investigation shows once more how the politically controlled justice system keeps Guatemala chained in corruption. Laparra's lawyer Claudia Gonzáles has criticized her detention in the military prison Matamoras. According to human rights groups and Gonzáles, Laparra needed a surgery while in prison. Leading up to this she was denied the freedom to choose a doctor and necessary medication. This act was later documented by international human rights organizations known for investigating corruption and human rights abuses.

Claudia Gonzáles is a well known anti-corruption fighter. Before her days as a lawyer, Gonzáles worked as a prosecutor at the UN backed 'International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala' (CICIG). Today Gonzáles works as a lawyer representing nine fellow lawyers criminalized for their anti-corruption work and challenging the power structure in the country.

In order to stop this corruption and illegal prosecutions, the international community must put pressure on the Guatemalan ruling class as well as the justice system.

IRTF stands in solidarity with Virginia Laparra and all other criminalized anti-corruption fighters in Guatemala.                  

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On May 11, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Guatemalan trans women Estrella Santos-Zacaria. Estrella first fled her home country in 2008, after being raped as a young teenager and receiving death threats from her neighbors because of her gender identity. Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Estrella was taken in to custody by immigration services, and was deported not long after. In its verdict, the immigration court judge stated that Estrella did not make a strong enough case for a possible persecution in Guatemala. Following her deportation, Estrella spent many years in Mexico, without support or protection. Caught in this vulnerable situation, Estrella was assaulted and raped by a Mexican street gang, driving her to a second attempt to seek safety and peace in the U.S.. Finally back in the U.S., Estrella filed a lawsuit in hope of a second chance for asylum. After a long process through the judicial system, and a number of denials, Estrella brought her case to the US Supreme Court. The court, most publicly known for its conservative to right-wing judges and its reactionary stance on women's rights over their bodies, unexpectedly ruled in favor of Estrella, granting her an immigration court date. In a comment on the court's decision, the US State Department verbalized that it has found that Guatemala has done little to protect LGBTQ+ people and that transgender women are subject to frequent threats of violence. 

Though this is positive news, it is still just a technicality and does not guarantee an asylum status. In our eyes, it is necessary that the United States' immigration courts start granting security to all trans people in need.        

News Article

For decades, one of the most horrific crimes against humanity ever committed in Central America has gone without consequences. During the Guatemalan civil war, which raged from 1960 until 1996, violent death squads brought terror over the country. Between 1983 and 1985 these feared paramilitaries kidnapped and tortured at least 195 political enemies, before eventually killing most of them. Years went by without any notable investigation efforts to bring those guilty to justice. This was not unexpected, as corruption and injustice runs deep within the country, and many of the perpetrators had influential positions within the government or affiliated organization. 

With this history it was even more surprising when Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez started investigating the case. In 2016, the so called Death Squad Dossier took off, when Gálvez ordered the seizing of critical military documents for the case. The resulting process finally started in 2021 with the arrest of 11 suspects, followed by a second sweep shortly after, in which four more individuals were detained. One year later in May 2022, the first evidence hearing started after which nine of the accused perpetrators were ordered to trial. During the hearings more and more devastating stories came to daylight, including rape, murder and forced displacement. In the period of the Death Squad activity, at least 131 people were forcedly displaced, six of which were later found in military bases.

At first it seemed like this process might finally bring clarity about what happened to the victims and their families, and would bring the criminals to justices, but as Judge Gálvez later had to realize it was all down hill from there on. 

Until today, many of the perpetrators still have important political connections and positions and even work with criminal organizations like "La Cofradia" (The Brotherhood) and are even on the run. These connections often lead to efforts to keep these criminals out of condemnation.

Following the arrest of Toribio Acevedo Ramírez in Panama in 2022, a massive campaign against Gálvez was started to prevent the hearing. Trying to avert a prosecution, the Foundation Against Terror (FCT), a pro-military organization, sought to criminalize Gálvez by bringing charges against him to lift his immunity. Additionally the FCT started a social media campaign to denounce Gálvez and the lawsuit.

After months of immense pressure, Gálvez unexpectedly resigned on November 15, 2022, after 25 years as a judge. In an attempt to escape the threats and allegations, Judge Gálvez left the country and now lives in exile in Europe. 

The resignation of Judge Gálvez opened the door for collaborating judges to dismantle the case; a process started promptly. The new judge assigned to the case started lifting custody orders for five of the defendants due to "health" issues. This de facto release is more than just a punch in the face of all victims, it also undermines the Guatemalan constituti0n under which defendants charged with murder must stay in detention until trial. 

Get deeper insight into the accused perpetrators, their connections to political and criminal organizations, and the general case in the article below.  

News Article

On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

News Article

In the months leading up to the Guatemalan presidential election on June 25, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has denied left-wing Indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera the ability to run as a candidate.  As a pretext, the  TSE says that Cabrera's vice-presidential candidate, Jordan Rodas, would not meet all legal requirements. This is most likely based on complaints against him for his prior work as the national Ombudsman for Human Rights (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos).  On February 3, the TSE blocked Cabrera from registering as a candidate.  After Cabrera appealed, judges validated the rejection of her candidacy on February 16. As a last chance to be registered for candidacy in the election, Cabrera now has to apply in front of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court. 

In protest of the court's ruling, farmers blocked twelve national highways and the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP) and supporters took to the streets. Indigenous environmental activist Bernardo Caal Xol stressed that "Preventing the registration of Thelma Cabrera as a presidential candidate is an act of racism." In fact, it is believed that corrupt groups and the far-right have mobilized to prevent Cabrera from running in the elections.

Thelma Cabrera, who already took part in the 2019 presidential elections and won 10% of the votes, has since risen in popularity and is believed to be an actual threat to the right-wing candidates. Thelma Cabrera, the former attorney general, and Jordan Rodas, the former ombudsman for human rights, were fired from their posts by the right-wing administration in Guatemala. Both are now living in exile.  

It is apparent that the Guatemalan ruling body fears a loss of power and an Indigenous, leftist government. The recent protests have shown that especially the Indigenous population is fed up with the rule of a class carrying the legacy of colonialism.