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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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Will the Guatemalan people be allowed to vote for a government that is actually democratic for the first time since 1954?

 Or will the US and Canada stand back and watch as long-time “democratic ally” – the repressive, aptly-named ‘Covenant of the Corrupt’ government – carries out sustained attacks on the electoral process and the Semilla Party?

On June 25, to the shock of most Guatemalans, international observers and indeed the “Covenant of the Corrupt” (an alliance of corrupt judges, prosecutors, politicians, and economic and military elites who run the country), the opposition-party named Movimiento Semilla (“seed movement”) finished 2nd place in first-round elections, forcing a run-off against the establishment UNE Party (candidate Sandra Torres, a former first lady).

The “Covenant of the Corrupt”has been carrying out brazen, January 6/Trump-like attacks on the democratic aspirations of the Guatemalan people, targeting the electoral process itself and the Semilla Party that is favored to win the August 20 run-off vote.

Over the past ten years, the North American media has reported on the plight of millions of forced migrants desperately trying to cross Mexico and get into the US. A disproportionately high number of these refugees and forced migrants are fleeing Guatemala. Many have fled from land, environment and human rights defense struggles that our organization (Rights Action) supports, having suffered evictions and violence at the hands of successive Covenant of the Corrupt governments in partnership with transnational companies in the sectors of mining, hydro-electric dams and the for-export production of African palm oil, sugar cane, bananas and coffee.

Yet, in the face of this, the US and Canadian governments (and companies) have consistently prioritized their political and economic and political interests over basic issues of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the guaranteeing of a basic minimum standard of decent living conditions for a majority of Guatemalans.

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Guatemalan protesters took to the streets again on Monday demanding that the attorney general and a handful of prosecutors step down over their alleged efforts to impede the upcoming presidential runoff election. Marchers called for the ouster of Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras, whose office is seeking to disqualify the Semilla (Seed) Party of Bernardo Arevalo, a social democrat who surged into one of two August 20 runoff spots, shocking many in the nation. Judge Fredy Orellana and prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche have also drawn the ire of protesters since the June 25 first-round vote. On Curruchiche's orders, Orellana directed the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to disqualify the Semilla Party, alleging anomalies in how it was created in 2017. The Tribunal did not comply with the order. In response, judicial agents have twice raided the TSE, and sought to arrest a functionary there. On July 21 they searched the headquarters of Semilla in Guatemala City.

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The Guatemalan presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo has denounced a police raid on his center-left Semilla party headquarters as a “corrupt” show of “political persecution” just a month before the high-stakes runoff election. In a post on Twitter, Arévalo derided the raid as a “flagrant demonstration of the political persecution we have denounced”. The presidential hopeful has blamed the police action on a “corrupt minority” but did not go into further detail. The raid follows an investigation into alleged irregularities in the registration of more than 5,000 Semilla members, which the party has denied and which has been widely criticized by rights groups as improper interference in Central America’s biggest democracy. Arevalo is scheduled to go up against former first lady Sandra Torres on August 20. 

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For decades the United States has armed and supported military and paramilitary forces around Central America in its fight to oppress challenges to global capitalism. In this glorious struggle no means and violent actions were too extreme for "the nation of freedom and liberty," no matter who the victims were. Especially under the Reagan administration, violence by US-trained and armed forces ramped up, with one of the most devastating acts being the El Mozote massacre of December 1981 when the Salvadoran Army's Atlácatl Battallion killed more than 800 civilians, including children, in the small village in northern El Salvador. 

In this period of war crimes one of Reagan's most important supporters was Elliott Abrams, who served under President Reagan in the US State Department as both Assistant Secretary of Human Rights and Assistant Secretary of Inter-American Affairs. From the beginning on Abrams' was a strong supporter of the US's insurgency policies and a strong defender of dictators like Ríos Montt in Guatemala under who's regime mass murder, rape and torture were committed against the Ixil Mayan people, events later classified as a genocide by the United Nations. When asked about the US's record on El Salvador in 1994, Elliott Abrams called it a "fabulous achievement." 

Thirty years after the end of his initial service in the State Department under Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump brought Abrams back to the forefront of international politics as the United States Special Representative for Venezuela, were he represented the US's policy of starving the nation and support of the attempted coup in Venezuela. In 2020 Abrams additionally took over as Special Representation for Iran, pushing sanctions that harmed the Iranian civilian population. 

Now the Biden Administration is sending to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee the nomination of Elliott Abrams to join the State Department Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. It is clear that Elliot Abrams does not belong in another US administration. Please urge all Committee members to oppose his deployment. 

You can help in our (and other human rights groups') efforts.

TAKE ACTION

1) Click here to see if your US senator is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams.

2) Send a message to your US senator even if they are not a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Tell them that if this comes up for a vote in the full US Senate, you urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams. You can find contact info for your US senators at https://www.senate.gov/

3) Send a message to your US congressperson.  Tell them that if this comes up for a vote in the full US House, you urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams. Take action at https://afgj.salsalabs.org/oppose-elliott-abrams-nomination/index.html

News Article

In May 2023 members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) traveled to the Ixil territory in the highlands of Guatemala. The territory is home to a number of indigenous communities of the Ixil Mayan ethnicity. The Ixil territory, five hours from the capital Guatemala City, once was lush and filled with life. But all this changed in 2009 when an Italian company sensed  profits and invaded the Indigenous land. That year the energy company Enel Group constructed a hydraulic dam changing the course of the Putal River, which sustained the surrounding communities for centuries, provided clean water and fertile land. Since the construction of the dam and the river's diversion, the once mighty river shriveled to a small creek, drying out farmland, killing fish and ending the supply of clean drinking water. As a compensation, Enel promised the villages in the affected  municipality (land district) electricity but did not connect the communities to a power grid. Instead of providing a reliable grid, the corporation donated solar panels which the communities can't sustain due to broken batteries and a lack of support. 

In their 14-year struggle to reclaim their rights and land, the communities of the Ixil territories experienced many setbacks. For four years the Indigenous Council and mayors of impacted  villages tried to conduct negotiations with Enel and the Guatemalan government as an effort to stop the project, but all negotiations were rejected and any engagement between Enel and the communities were only sporadic. In this ongoing fight for survival of the Indigenous communities, the Guatemalan government generally took the side of Enel. In 2011 community activists set up roadblocks and barriers as an effort to enforce negotiations. This peaceful protest erupted the most violent reaction by the state to date when the government sent 1,200 troops into the territory to occupy the protesting communities and enforce nine arrest warrants against community organizers. For many victims of the 36-year civil war. this attack brought back decades old traumas. 

In 2011 the communities filed for a protective status which later was ordered by the Supreme Court but not acknowledged by the Guatemalan central government. The court also decided that Enel had to talk directly to community leaders, an order that was ignored as well. After years of pressure by activists Enel finally agreed to talks, with little success. In their proposal, the Indigenous communities asked for a 20% cut of all profits made on their land as well as reparations for the damage caused by the dam's construction. Enel denied this proposal, only committing to provide materials to rebuild and a yearly payment of 2 million quetzales, around $255,000, to the municipal government--money that does not benefit the suffering communities. Enel has yet to act on its promise for building materials. 

Most recently, Enel and the Guatemalan government have stopped responding to the community leaders' contact requests. The communities filed for a protective status again, but for now the legal proceedings' impact and damages will go unchecked. Until today the dam has caused massive environmental damage, illness and violence by Enel workers. The communities will not stop pushing for reparations and their rights while constantly fearing another army deployment. 

We as IRTF stand in solidarity with the suffering communities and urge the court and Guatemalan government to set an end to this crime.           

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In the Cleveland immigration court in May 2023, nationals of Venezuela ranked #1 of all new deportation cases filed by the Department of Homeland Security against Latin Americans.  Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2022, the number of Venezuelans has been right up there with Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans.  So what is driving so many Venezuelans to Ohio?

In this month’s Migrant Justice Newsletter, please read about: 1-Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH, 2-ICE Air: Update on Removal Flight Trends, 3-Cruelty at the Border Is Not Success, 4-At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border, 5-Halfway to the US: A Report on Migration from Honduras, 6-Venezuelans: How US Sanctions Are Driving Migration North to the US, 7-Asylum in Limbo – a book review. Then see our TAKE ACTION items: A) Follow the Biden Deportations Tracker, B) Tell Senator Sherrod Brown to take his name off Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s anti-asylum bill!, C) Urge Your Congressperson to Support the American Families United Act (now called Dignity Act), and D) Restoring Asylum and Dignity for Immigrants – webinar July 12, 7-8pm EDT.

Even though Title 42 ended on May 11, removal flights to El Salvador and Honduras increased in May. And in Cleveland’s immigration court (EOIR), new deportation cases filed in May were up 1200 over the previous month, due mainly to the government filing cases against 1278 migrants from Mauritania and another 888 against migrants from Uzbekistan. The top nationalities (from Latin America/Caribbean) with new deportation proceedings filed in Cleveland in May: Venezuela (450), Mexico (278), Colombia (209), Guatemala (195), Haiti (160), Honduras (159), Peru (135), Nicaragua (77), El Salvador (47).

Read IRTF’s June 2023 Migrant Justice Newsletter at: https://www.irtfcleveland.org/blog/migrant-justice-newsletter-june-2023

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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 southern 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 https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

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