I’ve been sharing a lot of news lately about President Jimmy Morales’ ongoing attack of the CICIG (the UN-backed commission to investigate organized crime and corruption in Guatemala.)
The concern is not only for the individual members of CICIG and their invaluable work, but also for justice and the rule of law in general.
The continuing assault on the CICIG is perhaps the most visible action of those who desperately seek to maintain Guatemala in a state of impunity and lawlessness. This dark alliance of politicians, military officials, economic elite, and others are willing to undermine democracy, and embrace illegality, in order to maintain their power and privilege. They are known as the “Pact of Corruption.”
Today we are witnessing three frightening results of their efforts:
1.) The presiding judges in the corruption case against the brother and son of President Jimmy Morales have dismissed the CICIG as co-prosecutors in the case. The judges ruled (without any request from the defense lawyers!) that CICIG’s absence in today’s proceedings justified their removal as co-plaintiffs. Also implicated in the case are high-ranking officials from the previous Patriot Party administration.
2.) The three Constitutional Court judges who challenged the arbitrary and unconstitutional decisions of President Morales to expel the Swedish Ambassador, and later, the CICIG from Guatemala are at risk of being tried for “exceeding their mandate.” A congressional committee is meeting right now to determine if they will be stripped of their immunity from prosecution in order to face trial.
3.) Congress is currently considering reforming the “National Reconciliation Law.” This reform would illegally grant a blanket amnesty to all military officials who committed crimes against humanity during the armed conflict. These crimes include the forced disappearance, rape, torture, sexual slavery, massacres, and genocide committed against the Mayan indigenous people. For those who have been already been found guilty and sentenced, the amnesty would order their immediate release from prison.
I have just returned from a visit to the village of Ixquisis, where community members are in peaceful resistance to the imposition of a massive hydroelectric project that threatens to divert their river and dry up their farmlands.
The Human Rights Defenders Project participated as part of a caravan in solidarity with the brave people of Ixquisis. I was well-accompanied by other human rights defenders, environmental activists, community leaders, spiritual guides, artists, and indigenous authorities.
Ixquisis is the very definition of remote. We were on the road (and I use that term loosely) for nearly 18 hours before reaching the village. Forging rivers, crossing mudslides, climbing rock-strewn mountains, traversing dense forest…. we finally arrived in an area so intensely green that it soothed me to my soul.
(Ironically, I’ve found that many of the worst atrocities and grave human rights violations in Guatemala occur in the most unimaginably beautiful places.)
All through the day we met, shared stories, and ate together in an open field. A sense of mutual support and shared struggle united those of us gathered on the grass.
As night fell, I wandered far from the cooking fires, songs and dancing.
Alone, I looked up.
In a place so free from overdevelopment and light pollution, the night sky was breathtakingly brilliant. It had been years, if not decades, since I saw a sky so iridescent with countless shimmering stars. I stood in silent awe.
Maybe you’ve had that same feeling? Of belonging. Of purpose. That perfect moment when you know (not feel, not sense, but know) that you are in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.
A prayer of gratitude slipped unbidden from my lips: thank-you.
I lowered my sight to the darkness of the night and searched for the light of the cooking fires. Following the flames, and the sounds of laughter and music, I returned to my people.
The armored jeeps were lined up single file along a Guatemala City street on August 31 in an ominous queue. By mid-morning, images began circulating of the jeeps outside the offices of a U.N.-backed anti-corruption commission that has played a key role in bringing down corrupt officials. More jeeps were spotted in the vicinity of the National Palace, along with military personnel. In a country with a not-so-distant past of military coups and massacres, the photographs and videos spread like wildfire, raising alarm as people scrambled to find out what was going on. […]
Regardless of the shifting rationales, one thing is now clear: The Guatemalan government violated an agreement with the United States regarding the latter’s donation of Jeep J8s. Both the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Defense confirmed to The Intercept that the vehicles were donated for use by specific Guatemalan interagency task forces for counternarcotics operations in border regions. Their transfer or use outside of those parameters would constitute a violation of the donation agreement.
The Guatemalan state was slaughtering tens of thousands of people in the 1980s. To this day, few people have heard about the Guatemalan genocide because it was just too damn hard to get any real information then: it was dangerous; journalists were targeted; the army’s scorched earth actions were mostly relegated to remote mountainous areas; the civilians there spoke Indigenous languages; and those who took up arms to resist were deeply clandestine. It took time, patience, and persistence. […]
We know now that attacks against unarmed civilians intensified and that acts of genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Maya people were intentionally ordered by Ríos Montt and carried out by soldiers and civilian patrols, who reported back up the chain of command to him. Ríos Montt claimed in 1982 and during his trial that he was unaware of what his officers were doing in the field. He lied then, and he lied in 2013. Guatemala’s highest court promptly overturned the genocide ruling, but its symbolic weight on the historic verdict remained. Ríos Montt died a convicted genocidaire still under house arrest in April of this year.
“We are living in calamity, a humanitarian crisis in Honduras,” said Bartolo Fuentes, a well-known Honduran journalist and former member of its Congress, arriving at the Toncontin Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Oct. 19 after being detained in Guatemala where he tried to report on the caravan. “Today they left,” he said. “Tomorrow they will leave…. Three hundred people leave Honduras every day.”
“It is the duty of the Honduran State to provide its citizens with the means to satisfy their basic needs,” the Honduran conference of Catholic bishops said, “such as decent, stable and well-paid work, health, education and housing.”
“When these conditions do not exist, people are forced to live in tragedy and many of them hope to undertake a path that leads to development and improvement, finding themselves in the shameful and painful need to leave their families, their friends, their community, their culture, their environment and their land.”
And finally, in breaking news… actually, heartbreaking news: community leader and environmental activist Bernardo Caal Xol today was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison for helping to organize a peaceful resistance to a highly-criticized hydroelectric project in Guatemala.
Pat Davis shared an article (in Spanish) about the well-respected indigenous leader. On her Facebook page she comments:
We visited this man in prison in Guatemala during our recent trip there. He has been detained since January, awaiting trial on trumped-up charges. He had filed a case with the Supreme Court of Guatemala contesting the licenses granted to a company that has been building two hydroelectric dams on the river that provides more than 100 communities with drinking water.
The dams have diverted the river, and the traditional way of the life of the community members, as well as their health, is threatened. The Court ruled in the communities’ favor. And so, of course there was retaliation.
Bernardo’s sentencing hearing is tomorrow. He could face more than ten years for a crime that never occurred.
Son muchos, demasiados, los y las defensoras de los Derechos humanos que sufren la persecución, el hostigamiento, las amenazas y las agresiones de las empresas trasnacionales, las cuales, amparadas por los propios Estados, promueven proyectos que dañan el medioambiente, destruyen el territorio y terminan con la forma de vida de las comunidades locales.
Según los registros de la Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos – Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), se han registrado solo entre enero y julio del 2018 un total de 137 agresiones y 21 asesinatos a personas defensoras de derechos humanos solo en Guatemala.
Hidroeléctricas, minerías, plantaciones… Según el Convenio 169 de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT), antes de ejecutar un proyecto en territorio de pueblos indígenas y tribales debe realizar antes una consulta libre, previa e informada a las comunidades locales, un trámite que se incumple sistemáticamente. Esto es precisamente lo que el líder indígena maya q’echi’ Bernardo Caal Xol, miembro de la Resistencia Pacífica de Cahabón, exigía cuando se produjo su detención. También denunciaba irregularidades a la hora de otorgar las licencias de construcción.
Fue encarcelado el 30 de enero bajo acusaciones infundadas y mañana viernes se conocerá la sentencia.
It’s an unusually drizzly and gray day here in Guatemala City.
Which, upon further reflection, seems right. We’re at a crossroads, a time of change. The rainy season is coming to a slow end. The next six months will be almost completely free of rain. No need to lug around the umbrella anymore.
Since Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American holiday (bonus points for remembering that it is also celebrated in Canada, albeit in October), in Guatemala there is no break between the All Saint’s Day celebrations and Christmas. It’s one quick, slippery slope to Santa Claus.
Do I exaggerate? Yesterday, while sitting in my favorite Guatemalan coffee shop, Roque Rosito, the playlist abruptly transitioned from Dean Martin singing “Volare” (oh oh oh oh) to Dean Martin singing “White Christmas” (oh no no no!)
When I gestured to one of the waiters about the choice of holiday tunes, he simply rolled his eyes as if to say “yes, this will be my personal hell… having to listen to two months straight of geographically-inappropriate songs about snow in Guatemala.”
The year is quickly coming to a close.
Immigrants are made in the image and likeness of God and deserve to be treated with respect grounded in the dignity of our shared humanity. Words against immigrants matter, and hate speech has dangerous consequences. They stir the darkest forces of nativism, white supremacy and prejudice — often times masquerading as patriotism.
The greater danger for our country is the normalization of this hate, which reinforces an “us vs. them” mentality that further polarizes communities.
Immigrants are not the problem, and the caravan does not present a crisis or a national emergency. Root causes for contemporary responses deserve deeper exploration. Unjust and unequal trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA are detrimental to the survival of those who are impoverished.
Decades of U.S. interventions in Central American countries supporting oppressive regimes and corrupt governments helped foster ongoing cycles of violence. Migrants and refugees flee their homelands in search of a sustainable life for their families beyond the reach of drug cartels, poverty and the negative effects of climate change.
On March 7, 2017 a group of teenage girls attempted to escape from a state-run shelter near Guatemala City. The shelter, ironically-named Hogar Seguro (“Safe Home”), was actually an overcrowded, prison-like place where the girls suffered verbal and physical abuse, as well as rape and forced prostitution.
After being rounded up by the National Police, 56 teenage girls were caged like animals for nearly 7 hours in a tiny room, no larger than 23ft x 23ft. There was no bathroom.
At 8:45am the following morning a fire broke out in the confined space. Despite the screams and pleas of the girls, the police officers refused to unlock the door. 41 girls died nightmarish deaths in the flames; only 15 survived. Of those, many suffered terrible burns resulting in emotional and physical scarring, as well as the loss of fingers, toes, ears, and limbs.
The tragedy occurred on March 8th : International Women’s Day.
The families of the dead, as well as the girls who survived, now face the interminable task of healing and trying to rebuild their lives. Bringing to justice those responsible for this heinous crime is part of that process.
But Guatemala can be a cruel and unforgiving place. This past week served as a reminder that the Hogar Seguro tragedy occurred in a context of poverty, marginalization, crime, and violence.
On October 26th Carlota Paz Siquin, the sister Yemmi, of one of the victims of the “Safe Home” fire, disappeared from her home. Her body was found shortly thereafter. She had been stabbed to death and left in a sewage ditch. She was 13 years old.
The Paz Siquin family, still reeling from Yemmi’s brutal death, now must cope with another unimaginable loss. (The Human Rights Defenders Project helped cover Carlota’s funeral costs, in solidarity with the suffering family.)
A Note to Donald Trump
When the families in the migrant caravan say they are fleeing from conditions of terrible inequality and insecurity in their countries of origin… they are not exaggerating.
Poor communities have been battered by crime for so long that many are past the breaking point. Extortion and kidnapping by gangs are gouging the economy, while fragile justice systems are overwhelmed as reports of violence continue to pour in. According to the Wilson Center, some 95 percent of reported crimes currently go unpunished in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
These countries need more assistance, more courtrooms, more judges, more prosecutors, more vetted and trained police, more child welfare authorities, more rape crisis centers, more witness protection, and more community assistance for victims.
These migrants are so desperate that they are willing to leave their own countries to walk more than a thousand miles for safety.
These mass caravans are going to be the future of Central America if the justice systems there are not reformed to more effectively protect citizens and restrain and deter predators.
CARTA ABIERTA AL SECRETARIO GENERAL DE LA OEA,
Señor Luis Almagro
Secretario General de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA)
Estados Unidos de América
Señor Secretario General:
Las organizaciones firmantes, acompañantes de diferentes procesos de defensa de los derechos humanos en Honduras, aún consternadas por el asesinato de la lideresa indígena Lenca, Berta Cáceres, coordinadora del Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras –COPINH-, ocurrido la noche del 2 de marzo en su residencia en La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras, hemos venido dando seguimiento las acciones desarrolladas por el gobierno hondureño ante este grave crimen que ofende a la comunidad de defensoras y defensores de los derechos humanos en todo el mundo.
Tenemos conocimiento de los esfuerzos desarrollados por la familia de Berta Cáceres y el COPINH para que se realice una investigación profesional e independiente de los hechos, a fin de que los responsables materiales e intelectuales sean llevados ante la justicia y debidamente castigados. Lamentablemente, las respuestas del Estado hondureño no han sido satisfactorias: ha habido señalamientos de manipulación de la escena del crimen sobre los que no hubo respuestas convincentes; las diligencias de investigación de la empresa DESA -señalada por la propia víctima como fuente de amenazas- tuvieron lugar 11 días después de ocurrido el asesinato; el Fiscal General de la República aún no ha aclarado dudas que la familia de Berta y el COPINH le plantearon en una reunión sostenida el 29 de marzo y no les ha permitido ser parte del proceso ni tener acceso al expediente investigativo.
A la demanda concreta de que el Estado hondureño solicite a la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos la integración de un grupo interdisciplinario de expertos independientes para realizar una investigación profesional y confiable, el gobierno hondureño ha brindado respuestas que confunden a la opinión pública: primero, dando a entender que la recién abierta Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos se haría cargo de la investigación, lo cual está fuera de su mandato; y más recientemente, pidiendo a la, aún más nueva, Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras (MACCIH) que integrara una misión ad hoc conformada por un jurista de renombre internacional para asesorar al Ministerio Público y colaborar en el proceso investigativo y acusatorio; solicitud que también sale del ámbito principal del mandato de la MACCIH, centrado en el combate de la corrupción.
Señor Secretario General Almagro, la familia de Berta Cáceres, el COPINH, el MADJ y CEJIL se reunieron el pasado 6 de abril con usted, le entregaron un documento con sus peticiones y expresaron estar inconformes con esta última propuesta, exponiendo que “la CIDH es el único órgano con experiencia y competencia en violaciones de derechos humanos, correspondiéndole, por lo tanto, apoyar técnicamente en investigaciones de este tipo”. Saludamos el comunicado de la OEA del 8 de abril, en el que usted concluye que “los asuntos de Derechos Humanos que procedan en este caso deberán ser atendidos por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos”.
Coincidimos con la familia de Berta y el COPINH en que, dada la amplia complejidad que se observa en este caso -que ha puesto a prueba paradigmas hasta ahora existentes en lo referente a la debida protección de las y los defensores de los derechos humanos-, la propuesta idónea de apoyo internacional a la investigación del asesinato de la defensora Berta Cáceres debe incluir a la CIDH, conformando un grupo de personas expertas de diversas disciplinas que apoye técnicamente al Ministerio Público y tenga facultades suficientes para coadyuvar en un plan de investigación exhaustivo que indague a fondo la hipótesis de que este asesinato tuvo como finalidad impedir que Berta continuara defendiendo derechos humanos y lanzar un mensaje a otras mujeres y hombres defensores de derechos económicos, sociales y culturales.
La demanda de investigación y justicia que han hecho la familia de Berta y el COPINH también ha sido respaldada por ocho expertos en derechos humanos de la ONU, en un comunicado emitido el 11 de abril, en el que señalaron “la importancia de conducir una investigación totalmente independiente, imparcial y transparente del asesinato de Berta Cáceres y en este sentido (apoyaron) la solicitud formulada por los familiares de la víctima (de) que se establezca un grupo de expertos bajo la autoridad de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos”. Al respecto, enfatizamos que no habría incompatibilidad entre una investigación independiente impulsada por la Comisión Interamericana y un posible caso contencioso que podría llegar ante esa institución en el futuro.
Señor Secretario General, es posible (y ojalá así sea) que la MACCIH, en el mediano plazo, pueda ser un ente que complemente esta investigación desde la perspectiva de su mandato, contribuyendo a perseguir las redes de corrupción vinculadas con el otorgamiento de las concesiones irregulares que, en su momento, nuestra querida Berta Cáceres denunció; pero, en este momento, para esclarecer el crimen, no se puede seguir postergando el indispensable apoyo de la CIDH; en tal virtud, le solicitamos, públicamente, que, en seguimiento a su declaración del 8 de abril, reitere su respaldo a la participación de este órgano interamericano en los términos supra referidos, y, en tal sentido, interponga sus buenos oficios ante las autoridades hondureñas para que se escuchen las peticiones de la familia de Berta y del COPINH, y se acepte la conformación –en el menor plazo posible- de un grupo independiente e interdisciplinario de personas expertas.
Quedamos, pues, atentos a su respuesta a esta comunicación.
Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad
Foro Suiza Honduras
Plataforma de Solidaridad con Chiapas y Guatemala de Madrid
Peace Watch Switzerland
Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network
Comité por los derechos humanos en América Latina-CDHAL, Montréal, Canadá
Latin America Working Group
Red en Solidaridad con el Pueblo de Guatemala/NISGUA
Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo (PIDHDD Regional)
Brigadas Internacionales de Paz (PBI)
Fundación para el Debido Proceso Legal (DPLF)
Kickapoo Guatemala Accompaniment Project (KGAP)
Partners for Arlington and Guatemala (PAG)
Santa Elena Project of Accompaniment (SEPA)
The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a landmark resolution on the protection of human rights defenders working to promote economic, social and cultural rights by a resounding vote. States and business enterprises must now act to implement the resolution at the national level.
The resolution affirms the legitimate and essential role of human rights defenders in promoting, protecting and contributing to the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights – including indigenous rights and the right to development – and condemns restrictions and attacks against them by both States and business enterprises. It also underscores the fact that exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and public participation can be essential to the promotion, protection and realization of ESC rights, and that restrictions or violations of these democratic rights may lead and amount to violations of the ESC rights for which defenders are advocating.
The resolution also provides invaluable guidance to States and business as to obligations and good practices in the protection of defenders.