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.
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.
Reading about the U.S. election results while in Guatemala has been an exercise in frustration. The Democrats won… the House! The Republicans won… the Senate! Pro-Trump zealots won their races, unless they lost them.
The good news? Greater diversity in your elected representatives: In Colorado, the first openly gay governor. In Massachusetts, the state’s first black congresswoman. Two Muslim women were elected to Congress for the first time ever, as well as two Native American women! (About damn time, too. According to Huffington Post: “more than 10,000 people have served in the House and more than 1,300 have served in the Senate since the first Congress met in 1789. Not a single one of those people was a Native American woman.”)
The bad news? We (and I’m speaking presumptuously on behalf of the rest of the world, here) were hoping for a clearer and more decisive rejection of Trump’s nationalistic, xenophobic, racist, misogynist, divisive, short-sighted, ill-advised, inconsistent, and often-incoherent policies.
Now it appears that the political divide has grown deeper, the split more severe.
Even before the elections, trying to understand U.S. policy in Guatemala by observing the actions of the Embassy, the State Department, and the Tweeter-in-Chief was an exercise in futility. Call it dissociative identity disorder as foreign policy. Split personality politics, if you will.
I can’t help but wonder what will happen when Trump & Co., as well as the Democratic opposition, simultaneously claim that the election results are a clear mandate for their political platform.
“If you thought U.S. foreign policy was already poorly communicated, just wait until the next Congress, when the White House and House Democrats will be miles apart on critical issues.”
Of course, all this might end up being much ado about nothing if a recent report by astronomers at Harvard is to be believed.
A mysterious cigar-shaped object spotted tumbling through our solar system last year may have been an alien spacecraft sent to investigate Earth, astronomers from Harvard University have suggested.
The object, nicknamed ‘Oumuamua, meaning “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past” in Hawaiian, was discovered in October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.
A new paper by researchers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics raises the possibility that the elongated dark-red object, which is 10 times as long as it is wide and traveling at speeds of 196,000 mph, might have an “artificial origin.”
“‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” they wrote.
You know that at this moment, on some golf course cocktail napkin, Donald Trump is drawing up plans for “the biggest, most beautiful Space Wall ever. It’ll be huge. And the Martians will pay for it. Believe me.”
Yesterday Guatemala City seemed like a scene from a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. The streets where I live were completely deserted… well, except for the house-to-house shoe repairman and myself.
The rest of the residents were visiting departed family members in cemeteries throughout the country in celebration of All Saints Day, or the Day of the Dead. Or perhaps they had returned home to enjoy a plate of fiambre, a national plate consisting of a thousand ingredients (slight exaggeration) including: cold cuts, sausages, chicken, baby corn, cheese, olives, beets, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, onions, peas, capers, asparagus, etc.
A subtle flavor? No, not remotely. Delicious? Oh my, yes.
Today should be another quiet day. (I wince as write those easily-cursed words.) Since yesterday’s holiday fell on a Thursday, many businesses are offering Friday off as a “puente” day… literally, a bridge to the weekend. Those of us without the bridge will wade through the day like so many migrants crossing the border rivers in their trek northward.
Speaking of Which
Donald Trump’s latest threats against immigrants include:
Denying any possibility of asylum to migrants crossing into the U.S. illegally.
Sending between 5,200 and 15,000 troops to the border
Detaining migrants in tent cities indefinitely
Denying citizenship a right to those born in the United States
Someone should read “The New Colossus” poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty to Trump. (Probably while explaining the big words to him.)
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
If I were France, I would request the return of Lady Liberty. “if you’re not using it, you might as well send it back.”
If you dare
If you’ve read this far, there’s a chance you might have a more nuanced and critical assessment of the push/pull factors which drive Central American immigration to the United States. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that U.S. policy, politics, and actions have greatly impaired the growth of real democracy and genuine development in the region. If you’re nodding yes, then you’ll be richly rewarded by reading this fantastic article:
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.
“The difference in Guatemala between the death of a man and the death of a woman is that the woman is raped before she is killed, she is mutilated … This does not happen to men… It is clear to see how misogyny is present up until the moment of a woman’s death.” -Thelma Aldana, the Attorney General of Guatemala-
Latin America is the region with the most female murders on earth, a phenomenon partly due to organized crime activities such as human trafficking and gang violence. Just how do these criminal activities increase the victimization of women?
A recent report by a number of international organizations revealed that seven out of the ten countries with the highest female murder rate in the world are in Latin America. El Salvador heads the list with a rate of 8.9 homicides per 100,000 women in 2012, followed by Colombia with 6.3, Guatemala with 6.2, Russia with 5.3 and Brazil with 4.8. Mexico and Suriname are also in the top ten.
For the first time ever, sexual slavery will be prosecuted where the war crime took place, 30 years after 11 Mayan women from Sepur Zarco were raped and enslaved.
It was 1982, one of the bloodiest years of the country’s civil war as counter-insurgency operations against ethnic Mayans intensified under the rule of the military dictator and evangelical Christian, Efraín Ríos Montt.
More than 30 years later, two former military officers will finally face charges of sexual and domestic slavery and forced disappearance in a landmark trial which opens on Monday.
The trial marks the first in the world that sexual slavery perpetrated during an armed conflict has been prosecuted in the country where the crimes took place.