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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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The Trump administration, which has already closed the Mexican border to most Central Americans seeking U.S. asylum, is planning to go a step further and send most of the would-be migrants to another Central American nation to seek refuge there. Regulations proposed by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security would authorize immigration judges at the southern border to send asylum-seekers to one of three countries — Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras — as long as it was not their homeland. They could apply for asylum there rather than in the United States. The rules would allow other migrants to remain in the United States if they could convince an immigration judge that they were likely to be persecuted, or tortured, in the Central American country where they were to be sent to apply for asylum. That would be very difficult to prove for a migrant who would have little or no time to gather evidence about conditions in the Central American nation and, in nearly all cases, would not have access to a lawyer, said Richard Caldarone, an attorney with the Tahirih Justice Center, a support group for immigrant women and girls.
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Over the last century, the U.S. military intervention leading to the overthrow of democratically elected governments—or its support for tyrannical regimes—has played an important role in the instability, poverty, and violence that drives tens of thousands of people from the Central American countries toward Mexico and the United States. Guatemala: U.S. government support to the Guatemalan military was responsible for most of the human rights abuses committed during the 36-year war (1960-86) in which 200,000 people (mostly Mayan indigenous) were killed in what is now recognized as genocide. El Salvador: During the 1980s, the US sent $1-$2million in military aid per day. U.S. officers took over key positions at top levels of the Salvadoran military during the 12-yr war (1979-1992). More than 75,000 people were murdered or “disappeared,” while 20% of the population fled the country as refugees to Mexico and the US. Honduras: In 2009, President Manuel Zelaya, a liberal reformist, was ousted in a military coup (conducted by officers trained at the infamous School of the Americas). The U.S. refused to call it a coup while working to ensure that Zelaya did not return to power, in flagrant contradiction to the wishes of the Organization of American States. Today, there is routine violent crackdown by the police and military on the pro-democracy movement.
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Three countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—received more than 90 per cent of the deportations from the United States. Many of these deportees were members of the 18th Street and Salvatrucha gangs who had arrived in the United States as children but had never secured legal residency or citizenship; they had joined the gangs as a way to feel included in a receiving country that often actively impeded their integration. On being sent back to countries of origin that they barely knew, deportees reproduced the structures and behaviour patterns that had provided them with support and security in the United States. They swiftly founded local clikas, or chapters, of their gang in their communities of origin; in turn, these clikas rapidly attracted local youths and either supplanted or absorbed pandillas [local gangs].
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The rampant violence that afflicts the Northern Triangle, must be understood as a permutation of both preceding civil wars and US imperialism...The United States bears responsibility for instilling right-wing forces with a virulent anticommunism through both mobile and School of the Americas training programs...Sara Diamond argues, “Anticommunism became the American Right’s dominant motif not just because it justified the enforcement of US dominion internationally but also because it wove together disparate threads of right-wing ideology.” The Reagan foreign policy doctrine conveyed a project to “roll back revolution” and to undo gains made by struggles for decolonization. Reagan's wars in Central America followed a 100-year tradition of US military intervention. Starting in the 19th century, the US military invaded Nicaragua 3 times (1894, 1896, 1910) and occupied the nation for 20 years (1912-1933). The US sent troops to Honduras 5 times from 1903 to 1924. In Guatemala, the CIA overthrew its democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, laying the conditions for 30 years of civil war, and the massacre of 200,000 mostly indigenous people. In tandem with US militarization,...fruit companies restructured the region's economies toward monoculture. [Instituted was] a near-permanent open door for corporate intervention in matters of national sovereignty.
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"The Central America region, especially El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, known as the CA-4 group, have very high levels of corruption similar to those in sub-Saharan Africa," said the executive director of the Seattle International Foundation, Arturo Aguilar. "Given these disturbing trends, it’s no wonder people have very little trust in government. In fact, 65 percent of respondents think their government is run by and for a few private interests," the body said in their report.
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U.S. immigration authorities apprehended 76,020 minors, most of them from Central America, traveling without their parents in the fiscal year that ended in September — 52 percent more than during the last fiscal year, according to United States Customs and Border Protection. Mexico, under pressure from the Trump administration, stepped up immigration enforcement and detained about 40,500 underage migrants traveling north without their parents in the same period. That's a total of 115,000.
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Although mostly centered on migration, talk of Latin American foreign policy has increased as the presidential primaries near. Presidential hopefuls have ripped into President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, especially focusing on his “zero tolerance” policy. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has called it “dead wrong” and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro has vowed to decriminalize migration and admit climate refugees who ask for asylum. But the truth is that even in a crowded pool of candidates fighting for the 2020 nomination, many have failed to address how they would work with Latin American countries to address the root causes that push Latin American and Caribbean migrants to seek a better life in the United States. As candidates gear up for the fourth presidential debate...here is what some Democratic presidential hopefuls (and former contenders) have said about Latin American foreign policy so far.
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Outgoing Department of Homeland Security head Kevin McAleenan plans to announce during a trip to Central America this week the reinstatement of foreign aid that President Trump previously demanded be withheld, according to government documents obtained by the Washington Examiner. McAleenan, the acting secretary of DHS, is slated to formally announce the United States is reinstating roughly $150 million in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The forthcoming aid is primarily through Defense and State Department programs that support newly signed agreements McAleenan has recently entered with leaders from each of the three countries. The deals focus on addressing surges in recent years in the number of people from countries other than Mexico arriving at the southern border, as well as the underlying causes prompting hundreds of thousands to leave since last October.
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Hundreds of migrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Central America found themselves corralled in a migrant detention facility in southern Mexico on Sunday after a futile attempt to head north as part of a caravan aiming to reach the United States. Just before dusk, after having trudged more than 20 miles north, they were surrounded by hundreds of National Guard agents and police who persuaded the exhausted migrants to board vans back to Tapachula. Children cried, and women complained angrily about waiting months for papers. It was unclear if any would be deported.

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