In Guatemala, the number of human rights defenders murdered in 2018 continues to rise. Several indigenous leaders struggling to defend their lands are among those killed. As of September 21, twenty-one (women) human rights defenders have been killed in Guatemala this year. Read below for more updates from Guatemala.
Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman calls on government to investigate killings of HRDs
On September 21 Juana Ramirez Santiago, a member of the Network of Ixil Midwives, which has been denouncing violence against women, was shot to death. According to Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas, her killing brings this year’s number of murdered human rights defenders to twenty-one. Rodas has called on the Guatemalan government to investigate the killings of defenders and to afford defenders protection.
Guatemalan Congressman Calls for Removal of Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas
On October 12 Congressman Fernando Linares, of the National Advancement Party (PAN), asked the Congressional Human Rights Committee of Guatemalan Congress to remove Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas from office. Rodas has served in the position since August of last year and his term is for five years. The target of threats and pressure, Rodas has had protective orders from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights since October of last year. Among the points Congressman Linares listed in his complaint about Rodas is that he wrote letters of support on behalf of International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) Commissioner Iván Velásquez. (For more on recent events related to CICIG, click here.)
US Congressional Delegation Investigates Misuse of Military Vehicles Donated to Guatemala
A US congressional delegation composed of Norma Torres (Democrat, of California), Bradley Byrne (Republican, of Alabama), and Madeleine Bordallo (Democrat, of Guam)—all members of the Congressional Armed Services Committee—visited Guatemala in late September to look into the use of US-donated jeeps for apparent purposes of intimidation, including intimidation of US embassy officials. The delegation’s visit overlapped with the visit by PBI-USA staff, Amelia Parker and Pat Davis, to Guatemala, during which our staff were able to meet with US embassy officials and hear their own description of the use of military vehicles as intimidation tactics that they found concerning.
On August 31, the government of Guatemala used the J8 jeeps to patrol in front of the CICIG office, as well as in front of the US embassy. The jeeps were also seen outside prominent human rights organizations. The jeeps were donated for the sole purpose of operations against narcotraffickers. In a statement posted to social media, Representative Norma Torres said, “We need to know who ordered the patrols near CICIG and the US embassy and with what aim.” The Guatemalan news site Plaza Publica has obtained the order for the deployment of the patrols on August 31, when President Jimmy Morales announced that the mandate of CICIG would not be renewed. The document, a National Civil Police internal document numbered 459, states as the service to be carried out “support operations to prevent, combat, dismantle and eradicate criminal actions in the department of Guatemala from 8/31/18 to 9/2/18.” A handwritten note on the document says jeeps should patrol the environs of CICIG and the embassies of the United States and Mexico “until further order.” The document was signed by Commissioner Dario Gaspar de León, chief of the joint operations division of the police. Morales and Guatemala’s Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart have publicly stated that the jeeps were going elsewhere and passed by casually. Since 2013, the US government has donated 148 military vehicles to Guatemala to fight crime.
Additional Members of Congress Call for Detailed Report on Vehicle Use
Representatives Eliot Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Seth Moulton, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in an October 9 letter to provide Congress with a “detailed public report on the Guatemalan government’s attempt to intimidate US Embassy and United Nations personnel through the misuse of seven military-style J8 jeeps donated by the United States.” The lawmakers said that while a full investigation is being carried out by the State Department, transfers or sales of military equipment to the Guatemalan government should be put on hold: “Using vehicles purchased by the U.S. taxpayer to intimidate our personnel cannot be tolerated. We urge the Trump Administration to not turn a blind eye to this serious abuse.”
In US Speech on Prosperity Day, Morales Accuses Constitutional Court of Illegality
The United States and Mexico on October 11 co-hosted President Hernández of Honduras, President Morales of Guatemala, and Vice President Ortiz of El Salvador at the Prosperity Day portion of the October 11-12 Conference for Prosperity and Security in Central America. Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen, along with co-hosts Mexican Foreign Secretary Videgaray and Secretary of Government Navarrete, reportedly discussed the key economic, security, and governance issues that drive illegal immigration and illicit trafficking and agreed to expand partnerships in order to more effectively address the joint challenges in the region. For the full speeches of all the heads of state present, see this link. President Jimmy Morales in his speech said, "The constitutional court has infringed the political constitution of the republic, and it has also gone against the Vienna Convention. I said so at my speech in the UN. Judges and magistrates have been appointed who have made decisions against the government and against companies and American capital. And allow me to share an example. There's a mine, San Rafael mine, 60 percent American - 60 percent Canadian capital, 40 percent American capital. Five hundred days with work stoppage, having invested $1 billion on the mine. This company has lost over 35 percent of the value of its shares of the stock market in the United States. This because there has been interference." He suggested that CICIG and “other international powers” had interfered with the courts in Guatemala. Morales also said that a survey showed that “out of 2,500 people who had been employed by the mine, 75 are already thinking about migrating to the United States.” Morales said the Alliance for Prosperity requires him to allocate resources to areas that produce the largest number of migrants to the United States. As far as funding from the Alliance for Prosperity, he said, “So far, we have not received a cent. We had – 50 percent has been approved and from the United States, we have heard that maybe they will not certify the remaining 50 percent. Humbly, respectfully, we’d like to make a different proposal, a simple proposal. We think we are an excellent ally of the United States and we want to be even better. We’d welcome your helping us have institutions such as the IDB or the World Bank or other financial institutions giving us $15 billion for infrastructure projects.”
Guatemalan Government Leaves Eleven CICIG Officials Without Visas
In a press release posted to Twitter on October 16, the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) revealed that it had received two notices the day before from the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the news that courtesy visas extended to three CICIG were being revoked. Visas for eight other CICIG officials and two family members, which had been in process, would not be issued. No reason was provided. CICIG “laments this decision,” the communiqué says, “and will study the steps to take with the aim of preserving the fulfillment of the Accord on the creation of CICIG signed by the state of Guatemala and the United Nations.”
Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights Expresses Serious Concern for Guatemala and Mexico
In an October 12 address to the United Nations, Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz reported on her recent visits to Guatemala and Mexico. In Guatemala, she said, indigenous peoples constitute the majority of the population but “face structural racism and discrimination in their daily lives, reflected in the lack of protection of their lands, territories and natural resources and in their difficulties in gaining access to justice, health and education, or political participation.” She said she was concerned to learn that “in spite of the overall national economic growth, the levels of inequality are increasing. Around 40 per cent of indigenous peoples still live in extreme poverty, and more than half of all indigenous children in Guatemala are chronically malnourished.” She mentioned that the implementation of the vast majority of the commitments in 1996 Peace Accord on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Identity remain unfulfilled, as do most of the recommendations issued in 2002 by her predecessor. “It is deeply disturbing, that today, 22 years after the signing of the Peace Accords, only nineteen percent of the commitments adopted in the Accord on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Identity have been implemented. There has been insufficient progress in particular related to securing land and resource rights, bilingual intercultural education, and recognition of indigenous authorities and justice.”
She went on to say, “Both in Mexico and Guatemala, I received numerous complaints about the impacts of the current ‘development’ model on the rights of indigenous peoples. The drastic increase of extractive and other projects fails to respect indigenous peoples’ right to determine their own priorities and strategies for the development and use of their lands, territories and natural resources. These projects are generally undertaken without adequate human rights impact assessments nor good faith consultations to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned.” She also expressed extreme concern “about the increasing levels of violence, forced evictions and the criminalization of indigenous peoples in both Mexico and Guatemala. “In Guatemala,” she said, “I visited indigenous leaders in prison for defending their lands and I am particularly disturbed by the killings of several indigenous leaders during and since my recent visit.” (For recent Mexico news, visit the PBI Mexico website.