Wednesday, December 29, 2010

14 Years Since Signing of Peace Accords in Guatemala...

Let 2011 be a year of truth and justice...

Guatemala Truth Commission
http://www.usip.org/publications/truth-commission-guatemala

February 1997 | Truth Commission

Truth Commission: Commission for Historical Clarification (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico)

Dates of Operation: February 1997 - February 1999 (2 years)

Background: From the mid-1950s through the 1970s Guatemala was characterized by increasing state repression against citizens in response to rising unrest by various militia groups. In 1982 the Guatemalan military conducted a scorched earth campaign against the newly formed Revolutionary National Unity of Guatemala (URNG), resulting in the a high number of deaths.

In 1987, the first government-URNG talks were hosted in Spain, yet URNG continued subversive activities during this time further weakening the government. The parties returned to peace talks facilitated by the United Nations in 1993, which were ultimately successful. The Commission for Historical Clarification was established on June 23, 1994, as a part of a peace agreement between the Guatemalan government and the URNG, and the Accord for Firm and Lasting Peace was signed in 1996.

Charter: Agreement on the establishment of the Commission to clarify past human rights violations and acts of violence that have caused the Guatemalan population to suffer (PDF-95KB), June 23, 1994

Mandate: The Commission for Historical Clarification was created to clarify human rights violations related to the thirty-six year internal conflict from 1960 to the United Nation's brokered peace agreement of 1996, and to foster tolerance and preserve memory of the victims.

Commissioners and Structure: There were three commissioners, two men and one woman (of Maya descent), including two Guatemalans. German law professor, Christian Tomuschat, of Berlin's Humboldt University, chaired the commission. The chair (“moderator”) of the commission was appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The mandate stipulated that one member had to be a Guatemalan of irreproachable conduct, appointed by the chair with the agreement of the parties to the peace agreement. The other member had to be an academic selected by the moderator, with the agreement of the parties, from a list proposed by the University presidents.

Report: The Commission presented its final report, Guatemala: Memory of Silence (Guatemala: Memoria del Silencio), in Spanish to representatives of the Guatemalan government, Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), and the U.N. Secretary General on February 25, 1999. The report is also available in English on the American Association for the Advancement of Science website.

Findings:

Conclusions

* The commission found that repressive practices were perpetrated by institutions within the state, in particular the judiciary, and were not simply a response of the armed forces. The report stated that in the four regions most affected by the violence, “agents of the state committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people”(Final Report, English Version, para. 122).
* In total, the Commission conducted 7,200 interviews with 11,000 persons cataloging the interviews in a database. Declassified information from the U.S. government was included in the data.
* The total number of people killed was over 200,000; 83% of the victims were Mayan and 17% were Ladino.
* "State forces and related paramilitary groups were responsible for 93% of the violations documented" (Final Report, English Version, para. 15).
* "Insurgent actions produced 3% of the human rights violations and acts of violence” (Final Report, English Version, para. 21).
* Social mobilization was at its peak from 1978 to 1982 and so too was the rate of killings and human rights abuses.

Recommendations

* The commission was not allowed to name names and did not include names of perpetrators or a call for prosecution in its report.
* Reparations were recommended such as the erection of monuments, dedication of public parks or buildings, reclamation of Mayan sites and financial assistance for exhumations.
* It also called for structural reform, mainly in the military and judiciary and encouraged a culture of mutual respect and the strengthening of the democratic process.

Subsequent Developments:

Reforms

* Without announcing any follow-up measures, Guatemala's President Arzu apologized for the role of the government in past abuses when he received the commission’s report.
* The U.S. government reacted coolly to allegations of its role in the Guatemalan civil war that were strongly condemned by the report.

Prosecutions

* There has been very limited success in prosecuting perpetrators. Only one Guatemalan officer has been convicted of human rights violations related to the report. However, in 2010 additional trials began against former military officials. Three former soldiers are accused of crimes committed in the 1982 massacre in Dos Erres in Northern Guatemala.
* The commission’s final report was used in a case filed by Rigoberta Menchú Tum against the president of Congress in Guatemala, José Efraín Ríoas Montt and seven other militaries for their involvement in atrocities. On July 7, 2006, a Spanish judge ordered Efrain Rios Montt and his co-defendants to be taken into detention, and an international arrest warrant was issued. Since 2001, the case has also been investigated by the Guatemalan judiciary.
* In an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Guatemala, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was set up and entered into force in September 2007. The CICIG is mandated to conduct independent investigations, present criminal complaints to Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor and take part in criminal proceedings as a complementary prosecutor. It also promotes legal and institutional reform and publishes periodic reports.
* In 2009, a retired colonel and three former paramilitaries were convicted for the forced disappearance of peasants during the civil war. After a civilian was sentenced to 150 years in prison earlier in 2009, this was the first successful prosecution of an army officer in connection with disappearances.

Reparations

* A National Reparations Commission was established in 2005, but decisions about policies and process have been slow.

Special Notes: Subsequent to the commission's work, a "Diario militar" (military logbook) was found that had registered the names and data of persons unlawfully arrested, tortured, and put to death by a unit of the security forces. The Forensic Anthropological Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) continues to exhume mass graves contributing valuable information for further investigations.

Sources:

* Chapman, Audrey R. and Patrick Ball. "The Truth of Truth Commissions: Comparative Lessons from Haiti, South Africa, and Guatemala." Human Rights Quarterly 23, (2001): 1-43.
* Fundación de Antropología Forense. Available at http://www.fafg.org/ (accessed July 1, 2008).
* Grainger, Sarah. " First soldier convicted in Guatemala disappearances." Reuters, December 4, 2009. Available at http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFTRE5B30MT20091204 (accessed January 14, 2010).
* Grainger, Sarah. "Guatemalan ex-soldiers on trial in landmark war case." Reuters, September 8, 2010. Available at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N08148249.htm (accessed September 16, 2010).
* Hayner, Priscilla B. Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions. New York: Routledge, 2002.
* Peterson, Trudy Huskamp. Final Acts: A Guide to Preserving the Records of Truth Commissions. Washington, D.C.; Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/press/peterson_finalacts.pdf (accessed July 1, 2008).
* Rother, Larry. "Searing Indictment." New York Times, February 27, 1999. Available at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F02E5D6143CF934A15751C0A96F958260 (accessed July 1, 2008).
* Tomuschat, Christian. "Clarification Commission in Guatemala." Human Rights Quarterly 23, (2001): 233-258.
* Trial Watch. "Efrain Rios Montt." Track Impunity Always (TRIAL). Available at http://www.trial-ch.org/en/trial-watch/profile/db/legal-procedures/efrain_rios-montt_260.html (accessed August 7, 2008).

Friday, December 10, 2010

BTS Applauds Appoitment of Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz as Attorney General of Guatemala

The Maritimes Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network, member of the Coordination for International Accompaniment in Guatemala (CAIG-ACOGUATE), congratulates Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey on her appointment as Attorney General and Head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala. Dr. Paz y Paz has worked tirelessly for Human Rights and particularly for Women’s Rights, as an academic, activist and lawyer. She was the Director of the UN High Commission for Refugees Legal Office and as the National Consultant for the UN Mission for Guatemala.

Dr. Paz y Paz also served as Director of the ICCPG, the Institute for Comparative Studies in Criminal Sciences in Guatemala. The ICCPG is an academic institution in the field of criminal policy and human rights, developing processes of investigation, training, advisory and divulging information to contribute to the construction of a movement of ideas and actions to influence through:

- The decrease of state and social violence through the promotion of alternative methods of resolution of conflicts and the recognition of the juridical pluralism in Guatemala.

- The strengthening of the agencies that administer justice.

- The strengthening of civil society's participation in the construction of a democratic criminal policy.

- The enforcement of the democratic State or right and the effective protection of human rights

We applaud the appointment of Dr. Paz y Paz, an extremely qualified and committed candidate and urge the Guatemalan State to create a safe working environment that fosters justice and an end to impunity in Guatemala, enabling Dr. Paz y Paz and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to go forward and make advances in their work.

Guatemala, December 10, 2010

International Day for Human Rights

Thursday, December 9, 2010

BTS Condemns the Murder of Emilia Quan Stackmaann

The Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network joins in the admonition of the kidnapping, torture and murder of Emilia Margarita Quan Stackmaann, who was found dead the morning of Wednesday, December 8, 2010, 24 hours after she went missing. Emilia was a sociologist working with CEDFOG, the Research and Documentation Centre of the Western Border of Guatemala and was en route to the municipality of Chiantla, Huehuetenango, when the crime occurred the morning of December 7.

According to CEDFOG, at 6:20am on December 7, the CEDFOG vehicle was intercepted by strongly armed men who kidnapped Emilia and the driver of the vehicle, Víctor López. Later, Mr. López was found abandoned, beaten, gagged with his hands and feet tied up and Emilia remained missing. That same day, at 8:30am, a vehicle of the Social Ministry Program of the Catholic Diocese was also intercepted a few meters from its offices located in San José. Inside was the Program’s Accountant, Manual Mendez, who was kidnapped and then abandoned in the community Naranjo, Huehuetenango.

The following day, December 8, Emilia Quan was found dead in the community of Cruz Canelish, between the municipalities of Chiantla and San Juan Ixcoy.

We join others in expressing our grave concern that these violence acts are related to the work of Emilia and CEDFOG, an organization that promotes human rights through social, cultural, political and economic research.

Along with national and international organizations, BTS demands that the Guatemalan State:
• Undertake a thorough investigation to find those intellectually responsible for the murder of Emilia and clarify the facts surrounding her murder
• Ensure an effective criminal investigation into the facts without hindering the investigation of all possible scenarios of what happened to help to clarify the facts.
• Ensure the safety of social and human rights organizations in Huehuetenango and all of Guatemala who work for development, security and justice.

We extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family of Emilia Margarita Quan Stackmaann. Her spirit and example will live on for those who continue to struggle for justice and a world where truth may be spoken freely.

Thank you, Emilia, for your gift of friendship, your example of justice and commitment to making this a better world. May you rest in peace. December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CHOC V. HUDBAY MINERALS

GIVE THE GIFT OF JUSTICE & ACCOUNTABLITY

THIS YEAR-END & CHRISTMAS

CHOC v. HUDBAY MINERALS

A Precedent-setting Lawsuit in Canada Against Nickel Mining Giant

Dear friends:

Please consider donating funds for this hugely important and (hopefully) precedent-setting lawsuit and struggle that Rights Action is involved with, to hold accountable a Canadian nickel company - HudBay Minerals - for the killing of Adolfo Ich, a Mayan-Qeqchi (kek-chi, phonetically) man in Guatemala.
* TO MAKE A TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION OR GRANT: See below
* MORE INFORMATION about this struggle for justice and indigenous rights: Grahame Russell, co-director, info@rightsaction.org

Thank-you for your trust and support.

Grahame Russell & Annie Bird, co-directors
* * * * * * *
CHOC v. HUDBAY MINERALS

Precedent-setting Lawsuit in Canada Against Nickel Mining Giant

BACKGROUND

On December 1, 2010, I participated in a press conference in Toronto, along with Murray Klippenstein, lead counsel for Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors. There was a simultaneous press conference in Guatemala. Here, I summarize from the Klippensteins press release:

* * *
LAWSUIT IN CANADA AGAINST MINING COMPANY RELATING TO KILLING OF MAYAN LEADER

For immediate release: December 1, 2010

Toronto, Canada and Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Angelica Choc and her lawyers announced today a lawsuit against Canadian mining company HudBay Minerals Inc. relating to the killing of her husband, Adolfo Ich Chamán.

On September 27, 2009, Adolfo Ich, a respected Mayan Q'eqchi' (Kek-chi, phonetically) community leader and an outspoken critic of environmental and health harms and other human rights violations caused by mining activities in his community, was hacked and shot to death by security forces employed at HudBay Minerals' "Fenix" Mining Project in an unprovoked attack near the town of El Estor, Guatemala.

Adolfo's widow has brought a lawsuit in Ontario courts to seek accountability for his death. The lawsuit claims $2 million in general damages and $10 million in punitive damages and is brought against Canadian companies HudBay Minerals Inc. and HMI Nickel Inc., as well as their Guatemalan subsidiary, Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel ("CGN").

Adolfo's murder was brutal. Mining security forces recognized Adolfo as a community leader, surrounded him, beat him and hacked at him with machetes before shooting him in the head at close range.

"I believe my husband was killed because he spoke out about the rights violations caused by Canadian mining in Guatemala" said Adolfo Ich's widow, Angelica Choc. "I believe he was killed because he was encouraging communities to stay united against the harmful practices of the mining company."

Angelica Choc has brought the lawsuit in Canada because of the strong connections between the mining project and Canada. "The bullet that killed Adolfo was shot in Guatemala" said Murray Klippenstein, lawyer for Angelica Choc. "But the decisions that ultimately led to Adolfo's death were made in Canada. HudBay Minerals' head office is a mere five blocks away from the Canadian court where the case will be heard."

Because Guatemala suffers from very high rates of impunity, there is little chance that Angelica Choc could get justice in Guatemala. In 2005, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Execution stated that "Guatemala is a good place to commit a murder, because you will almost certainly get away with it." In 2009, CICIG (the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala) reported that "the impunity rate in Guatemala amounted to some 98 per cent, with only 2 out of every 100 cases actually going to court".

The claim represents assertions that have not yet been proven in court. All defendants will have the opportunity to respond in these proceedings. For more information, see www.chocversushudbay.com

* * *
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT THIS STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE

Please view background films that Rights Action has supported and/or worked on:

* El Estor eviction 10 minute film, by Steven Schnoor: http://rightsaction.org/video/elestor/index.htm
* CTV's W5 special "Lost Paradise": http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/WFive/20100415/w5_paradise_lost_100415/

Please read:

* Rights Action's December 2 release: http://rightsaction.org/articles/Guate_Choc_vs_HudBay_120310.html

* Rights Action's December 6 release: http://rightsaction.org/articles/ChocVHudBay_media_coverage_120610.html

* "Formal Complaint", submitted by the University of Northern British Columbia and Rights Action to the Canadian government: http://rightsaction.org/articles/Complaint_HR_&Guate_Mining.html

RIGHTS ACTION & MINING-RELATED STRUGGLES

Since 2004, Rights Action has been funding and supporting a number of community development, human rights and environmental protection projects related to the harmful operations of international (mainly Canadian) mining companies in Guatemala and Honduras, and to a lesser extent in El Salvador and Chiapas.

These are struggles in favour of community controlled development, in favour of protecting the local environment and watershed regions, in favour of indigenous and human rights, while trying to stop, remedy and repair environmental and health harms and other human rights violations caused directly and indirectly by:

* HudBay Minerals' "Fenix" mine in Guatemala

* Goldcorp Inc's "Marlin" gold mine in Guatemala

* Goldcorp Inc's "San Martin" mine in Honduras

* Pacific Rim's planned gold mine in El Salvador; and

* Blackfire Exploration's barite mine in Chiapas

Most of our work is concentrated in the mining-harmed communities of Guatemala and Honduras.

IMPUNITY, NORTH & SOUTH

Each of these mining related struggles is characterized by impunity. No legal justice has been done in Guatemala or Honduras for any of the harms and violations. This is not due to a lack of legislation in Guatemala or Honduras; it is due to the historically entrenched and well documented impunity that characterizes Guatemala and Honduras.

No legal justice has been done in Canada, home to Goldcorp and HudBay (as well as Pacific Rim and Blackfire). This is due, significantly, to a lack of applicable criminal and civil legislation, and to a lack of political will. In large part, Canadian companies operate mines in countries like Guatemala and Honduras with immunity from criminal or civil prosecution and accountability in Canada.

CHALLENING IMPUNITY

Klippensteins is one of a few Canadian law firms trying to break the wall of immunity from prosecution in Canada, seeking ways to file suits in Canada against mining companies for harms and violations that their operations cause in other countries. At this time, they are also involved in a (hopefully) precedent-setting case concerning harms and violations linked to a Canadian mining company in Ecuador.

CHOC v. HUDBAY MINERALS

This case is important for the family of Adolfo Ich. Because of Guatemala's historic impunity, there is virtually no chance the family will achieve justice or remedy in Guatemalan courts. Angelica Choc's family deserves justice and remedy for their terrible loss.

This case is important for other Mayan-Qeqchi communities in the El Estor region that have historically, and on-going today, suffered human rights violations (including gang rapes, killings and forced evictions) at the behest of, or in the interests of Canadian nickel companies, including INCO, Skye Resources and now HudBay Minerals.

The case is also important with respect to all international mining companies operating in Guatemala, Honduras and elsewhere. Over the past 10 years, there has been growing awareness in Canada and the USA about the serious harms and violations caused by North American companies operating mines in many countries. And there is growing awareness about the lack of legal remedy available in Canada for harms and violations caused by Canadian companies.

There are important debates in Canada, right now, about Bills C-300 and C-354 that would provide varying degrees of long overdue administrative and/or civil law remedies. Bill C-300 was recently defeated in Parliament, and Bill C-354 is working its way, at a snail's pace, through the parliamentary bill reading process.

Thus, today in Canada, there are neither criminal nor civil laws that can be used. But, there are civil remedies that Common Law offers. This is the route that Klippenstein's is using in this case.

Comunidades de Población en Resistencia / Urbana Guatemalteca

Photos and Stories of Guatemala's Women in Resistance...

http://cpr-urbana.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 29, 2010

Local Voices Unite in Music, Justice, Equality and Peace

Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network launches holiday "Singing Solidarity" CD fundraiser

HALIFAX, NOVEMBER 2010 - Maritime artists are notorious for their generosity to their communities. "Singing Solidarity," a CD in support of the work of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS), highlights Maritime artists' generosity to the global community, and to the people who are working locally to build a network of support and strength between Atlantic Canadians and Latin Americans.

"This CD not only supports the work of a local organization, but is also a beautiful collection of songs to have around for the holidays," says Kathryn Anderson of BTS. BTS is launching the CD in time for the holidays, in hopes that Maritimers will take the opportunity to support good work while shopping for friends and family this time of year.

"Singing Solidarity" features the voices of Lennie Gallant, Tara MacLean, Scott Parsons and Nancy White from Prince Edward Island; Coco Love Alcorn, Wilf Bean, Four the Moment, Cheryl Gaudet, Shauntay Grant, and Old Man Leudecke from Nova Scotia; Border Crossing, Cesar Morales and RA Lautenschlager from New Brunswick; and Carolyn McDade whose sings with performers from all over Canada and the US.

The CD is a compilation of songs and spoken word pieces from these artists, all of whom have donated a recording to the project. The voices speak of the love of a land and its rivers, and the rending and violence of a people separated from their land and water. They speak of individual and collective resistance, solidarity, dignity, hope and affirmation, and they evoke a commitment to justice, equality and peace.

“Contributing to this CD is an important way for me to say we are all connected as citizens in the world," says Wilf Bean. "In many ways, Guatemala is not very far away. We all need to be aware of how our actions affect those less powerful. It is also a way of celebrating while we work in solidarity for a more just, caring and sustainable world!”

All proceeds from sales of this CD will contribute to BTS's solidarity work. The CD is available a the Tatamagouche Centre gift shop (902-657-2231) and can be ordered by contacting Corrie Melanson in Halifax (corrie.melanson@bellaliant.net), Margie Loo in PEI (loomargie@gmail.com) and Tracy Glynn in Fredericton (tracy@jatam.org). The BTS network encourages those who want to buy the CD to get their orders in early to avoid holiday mail.

Stay tuned for "Singing Solidarity" launches in your community!


Friday, November 26, 2010

Urgent Action: Trade Unionist Mateo López Shot

A Guatemalan trade unionist, Mateo López, was shot on 28 October in Catarina, San Marcos province, north-western Guatemala. He has now left the hospital, but remains at risk of further attacks. It is believed that he was targeted due to his trade union activities.


Mateo López is Secretary General of the local branch of the Health Trade Union (Sindicato de Salud) and a member of the coalition, National Front for the Struggle (Frente Nacional de Lucha - FNL). Since January 2010, he has been very active in denouncing corruption in the health service.

On 28 October, at 2am, Mateo López left his house to take a bus to Guatemala City, the capital of the country, in order to attend a general assembly of the Health Trade Union. In the agenda of the meeting, there was a talk on a corruption case which he campaigned against.

While walking towards a bus stop, a red motorbike with two men on it approached him. The man riding passenger shot him five times. Mateo López received a shot in the stomach, two shots grazed him over the right shoulder, and the final two shots grazed him in the knees. Mateo López fell to the ground. The men were about to shoot him once more, but people in neighbouring houses started to turn on their lights and make noise. The attackers escaped.

The Health Trade Union campaigns for access to public health services, while the FNL campaigns on broader themes like access to better standards of public services at affordable costs. The FNL has promoted campaigns against the high costs of electricity. In the last year, eight trade unionists belonging to the FNL have been killed. Those killings have not yet resulted in any convictions.


PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Spanish or your own language.
* Call for an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the incident against Mateo López, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice.
* Urge that the authorities take immediate steps to provide appropriate protection to Mateo López and his family, in accordance with their wishes.


DIRECT YOUR APPEALS TO:

Acting Attorney General:

Licda. Maria Encarnación Mejía García de Contreras
Fiscal General de la República Interina
15ª Avenida 15-16, Zona 1, Barrio Gerona
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
Fax: 011 502 2411 9124
Salutation: Dear Attorney General / Estimada Sra. Fiscal General

Ministry of Interior:

Lic. Carlos Menocal
Ministro de Gobernación
6ª Avenida 13-71, Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
Fax: 011 502 2413 8658
Salutation: Dear Minister / Estimado Sr. Ministro


AND COPIES TO:

His Excellency Georges De La Roche Plihal
Ambassador for the Republic of Guatemala
130 Albert Street, Suite 1010
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4
Fax: (613) 233-0135
Email : consular@embaguate-canada.com

Unidad de protección a defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, the Unit that protects human rights defenders:

UDEFEGUA
1 Calle 7-45 zona 1, Oficina 2-b
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
E-mail: udefegua@yahoo.com

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"I WANTED HIM BACK ALIVE." AN ACCOUNT OF EDGAR FERNANDO GARCÍA'S CASE FROM INSIDE TRIBUNALS TOWER

October 26, 2010, by Kate Doyle

http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/i-wanted-him-back-alive-%e2%80%9d-an-account-of-edgar-fernando-garcias-case-from-inside-tribunals-tower/#more-2110

Edgar Fernando García was 26 years old, an engineering student, labor activist and member of the clandestine Guatemalan Workers' Party (PGT) when he was seized by police agents off a street in Guatemala City and taken away forever. His disappearance left his young wife, Nineth Montenegro de García, and an 18-month-old daughter behind. It was February 18, 1984.

On October 18, 2010, the trial of two policemen accused of participating in Fernando García's abduction began inside a crowded courtroom on the 14th floor of the "Tribunals Tower" in downtown Guatemala City.

By 9:00 a.m., when the proceedings got underway, people had filled the fifty seats available in the spectators' gallery, with those unlucky enough to have arrived late lining the walls and crowding each other in the room's single doorway.

Behind a wooden barrier separating the audience from the court, three judges sat at a table on a raised dais overlooking the scene. To their right sat the defendants and their attorneys. To their left sat the prosecution, including the García family's choice for "querellante adhesivo," or "private prosecutor": attorney Alejandra García, Fernando's daughter.

The trial is extraordinary in several ways.

First, the indictments against Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos and Abraham Lancerio Gómez - as well as two other former policemen, Alfonso Guillermo de León and Hugo Rolando Gómez Osorio, both fugitives - were the first to be based on evidence found by investigators among records inside the Historical Archive of the National Police.

Second, if the court rules against the defendants and it is upheld by the Constitutional Court, it will be the third conviction in Guatemala for forced disappearance - after the landmark Aug. 31, 2009 Choatalum decision and the El Jute ruling on Dec. 3, 2009 - and thus would establish a lasting precedent for future cases.

That means that appeals would no longer be able to be made on the grounds that "forced disappearance" is not a valid or legitimate grounds for criminal charges.

FERNANDO GARCÍA IN THE DIARIO MILITAR

But the most interesting and groundbreaking aspect of the trial only became evident as the proceedings unfolded. Witnesses who had been called to testify about their relationship with Fernando García and events surrounding his disappearance spoke openly about his - and their own - militancy in the Guatemalan insurgent movement.

It was the first time that people willingly exposed their links to the political opposition that was the target for state repression during the country's 36-year internal armed conflict.

I joined four other expert witnesses on behalf of the prosecution. Over two days (Oct. 18-19), the experts and six witnesses presented testimony and answered questions posed by government lawyers and attorneys for the defense.

Although the men currently on trial are the agents who carried out the initial capture of Fernando García, the experts coincided strongly in their conclusions about the National Police's centralized chain of command at the time of his disappearance, as well as the key role played by the Army high command in launching the operation and coordinating their forces with the police.

"GOVERNMENTAL SECURITY SERVICES HAVE EMPLOYED ASSASSINATION..."

My own testimony was based on U.S. declassified records produced at the time of García's disappearance by the State Department and the U.S. embassy in Guatemala (some of them have been posted on the National Security Archive's Web site).

They describe a planned campaign on the part of the Guatemalan government to kidnap and kill trade union activists and student leaders linked to the opposition. In a secret analysis written on February 23, 1984, for example, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research reported a "new wave of violence" launched by military and police under head of state General Oscar Mejía Víctores, targeting a broad swath of Guatemala's legal and clandestine opposition.

"Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation," wrote U.S. officials, pointing in particular to the army's "notorious presidential intelligence service (archivos)" and the National Police, "who have traditionally considered labor activists to be communists."

This and other U.S. documents provide context for Fernando García's kidnapping as well as describe a pattern and practice on the part of Guatemalan security forces to use forced disappearance in their war against their political opponents.

Daniel Guzmán, a statistician from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group of California-based Benetech, followed me as an expert witness, introducing the records contained in the Historical Archive of the National Police with a statistical analysis of the quantity and movement of documents found in the collection.

According to Guzmán, documents concerning the Fernando García case flowed between entities high in the chain of police command (such as the Director's office, the Police Corps commanders and the Joint Operations Center) at twice the rate that occurred within the estimated 31 million records produced by the National Police between 1960 and 1996, the years of the armed civil conflict.

His conclusions helped define the universe of police records consulted in the investigation into the crime and offered supporting evidence of the involvement of senior police and military structures in the planning, design, orders and oversight of the operation that resulted in García's abduction.

The most extensive and important expert testimony of the day, however, came from the Police Archive's own investigator, Velia Muralles Bautista. Muralles described and displayed on a screen set up inside the courtroom images of some of the key records found in the police archive related to the crime. Her presentation provided chilling bureaucratic details behind the "cleansing operation" (operación de limpieza) launched by the army high command and National Police on the day of Fernando García's kidnapping.

As Muralles walked the judges through dozens of records leading up to and including the day of the disappearance, everyone present was able to examine projections of the surveillance files tracking García's movements beginning in 1978; intelligence reports describing CAVISA, the trade union he belonged to, as a subversive organization; orders sent by the army general staff to prepare for the operation in January and February 1984; records from the Joint Operations Center (Centro de Operaciones Conjuntas: COC) commanding which units would be involved; and a hand-drawn map of Guatemala City, with Zone 11 - the area where García and his companion, Danilo Chinchilla, were captured - assigned to the Fourth Corps of the National Police.

The document with the most immediate impact on the proceedings was a recommendation from the National Police hierarchy that the defendants - Ramírez Ríos, Lancerio Gómez, and the two fugitive police agents - be considered for a medal for their heroic actions on the day, at the time, and in the place of the capture of Edgar Fernando García and Danilo Chinchilla: "On February 18, 1984, at 11:00 a.m., while carrying out an Operation in the Guard's Market, Zone 11, they were attacked by two subversives, from whom they seized subversive propaganda and firearms."

The testimony given by Muralles was extraordinary in the depth of its analysis, and established beyond doubt the firm control in the hands of the most senior officers of Guatemala's army and police institutions of the operation that ended with Fernando García's disappearance.

In addition to the experts, six witnesses gave heartrending testimony about their relationship to García and their knowledge of the crime. Nineth Montenegro de García, today a representative in the Guatemalan Congress, spoke about her last day with her husband and described how the terrible realization that he had disappeared dawned on her and his relatives as night fell and he failed to show up for a family party.

Her reaction was to mobilize and begin combing the city for Fernando. "I filed a habeas corpus request the next day. I spoke to Héctor Bol de la Cruz, Director of the National Police. I spoke with the commanders of the police corps. I looked in jails, I spoke to firemen [famous in Guatemala for retrieving bodies from the city's streets], I visited institutions for the disabled. I contacted Mejía Víctores directly. So many other friends and colleagues had been disappeared under his government. I went to Mejía Víctores with my daughter in my arms and I begged him to help me. I went to the United Nations. I wanted him back alive."

Montenegro went on to found the Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo: GAM), Guatemala's first human rights organization.

Another of GAM's co-founders, Doña Amelia García, Fernando's 83-year-old mother, also appeared as a witness. After waiting patiently for hours for her turn, Doña Amelia gave the court a glimpse of the suffering endured by the families of the disappeared. "I feel a mother's pain in waiting for news about her son every day, every week, every year - and still living with hope. I wait for a response from the people who took him. But I have never received a response from anyone."

Marina Villagrán gave a moving psycho-social evaluation of the "lingering anguish" of forced disappearance on the families left behind, and specifically addressed its impact on the relatives of Fernando García.

She explained that the target of the disappearance is society: "it creates an enormous fear and mistrust within society. One thinks, 'if this could happen to him, it could happen to me.' And that produces in turn an absolute paralysis on political participation."

Ana Lucrecia Molina Theissen, whose 14-year-old brother was disappeared in 1981, was the person Fernado and Danilo Chinchilla were on their way to meet when they were seized by police. It was Molina Theissen who first told the court of García's militancy: "We were members of the Guatemalan Workers' Party (Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajadores: PGT)."

Her testimony was an astonishingly brave and open acknowledgement of the political activities that she, García and Chinchilla were involved in. To a hushed courtroom, she recounted how she arrived late to her planned rendezvous with the two men and found them gone. It was only the next day that she learned what had happened. "It was a very hard blow," she told the judges.

When asked by the prosecution what the objectives of the PGT were, she explained simply that "The goals of the party were to construct a just, supportive and democratic society, in which all would share in the benefits of the country."

"Did you ever consider yourself to be a combatant?" asked the government lawyer. "Combatant, that means armed, participating in an armed group. No. We were militants." Molina Theissen explained how she and her companions were targeted by the State as "internal enemies": "in the sense that the State considered anyone who criticized the government an internal enemy. To oppose the government was an illegal act for the State."

Other witnesses contributed their accounts of García's political work. Ruth del Valle, current President of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, talked about how PGT members operated in small, clandestine groups to organize people. "We believed we could achieve justice and create a Guatemala in which all could live in peace in a socialist nation - because we embraced the socialist ideology. Despite the persecution and despite all the colleagues we had lost, we remained convinced that this was possible."

Bethy Palacios, a friend of Fernando's and fellow PGT member, told of working with Nineth after his kidnapping to investigate the crime. "Even then we ran the risk of being targeted as terrorists or subversives for the work we were doing. It wasn't like today; you couldn't express yourself freely as you can now."

Witnesses Iduvina Hernández and Aura Elena Farfán described a missing piece of the puzzle of that day in telling of the fate of Fernando's companion, Danilo Chinchilla. Although both men were shot by police when they tried to flee the marketplace, Fernando was spirited away in an unmarked car while Danilo was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.

Hernández played for the court an audio tape of an interview conducted with Chinchilla days after incident. In it, he recounts in minute detail how the operation unfolded, as police agents and armed men in civilian clothing swarmed around the two in the middle of the crowded street. After Chinchilla was transported to Hospital Roosevelt, he lay wounded in a bed surrounded by his captors.

In fear for his life, he managed to smuggle out a note to a companion begging to be rescued. The nurse who carried the note for him was Farfán. She gave it to her brother, Ruben Amilcar, who successfully organized a rescue operation with the help of some of the hospital staff. Ruben himself was disappeared months later, on May 15.

Danilo, who survived his first encounter with the police, was recaptured and killed later that year, along with his companion.

After ten hours of wrenching testimony, the judges called a recess until the following day. We reassembled in the courtroom on Tuesday to hear the final two experts, Rember Larios - a former member of the National Police who added his own assessment of the police records and their implications for the senior tier of police and military officials involved in the crime - and Fernando López, who gave his expert analysis of habeas corpus law at the time of García's disappearance.

Thus ended the first phase of the Fernando García trial. The trial resumes this morning with the last witnesses to present and the lawyers' arguments. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Human Rights Accompaniment Training: June 2011

We will be hosting our next accompanier training, June 11-14, 2011 at the
Tatamagouche Centre, NS and we are eager to get the word out and recruit for
the new round of accompanier applicants.

Our best recruiters and 'word-spreaders' have been the BTS network, so
please consider flyering for us at your local schools, universities,
cooperatives, collectives, bookstores, etc. Please see the attached poster to
print and post; and please forward this e-mail far and wide to your networks.

The deadline for EXPRESSION OF INTEREST is March 31, 2011. You can find
the application information here: http://www.breaking-the-silence.ca/accompaniment.htm (see Become An Accompanier link on the right).

Please forward on (or check out the info yourself!) to those who may be
interested.


*** Some background information:

Currently, BTS accompaniers support ACOGUATE as they accompany individuals and organizations in several regions of the country whose work encompasses themes around impunity, security and justice, land rights and self-determination. This includes the on-going accompaniment of the members of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), who are witnesses to the massacres and violence of the genocidal period of the late 70s and early 80s, community organizations struggling against mining and hydroelectric projects on their land and human rights organizations challenging endemic impunity and corruption within the Guatemalan state. The requests for accompaniment from these groups are evaluated and responded to by ACOGUATE’s Guatemala City-based accompaniment team which represents 10 different international solidarity and human rights organizations from North America and Europe.

BTS accompaniers have provided human rights accompaniment to the witnesses
and human rights organizations working on the genocide cases since their
inception in 2000. It is extremely important to continue this work. If you
are interested in becoming an accompanier or taking the human rights
accompaniment training which is an excellent training for anyone interested
in human rights work, please contact Janelle the BTS accompaniment
coordinator: btsaccompaniment@gmail.com

“Have a Fair Trade Christmas” campaign launched

Two local social justice groups have joined forces to launch the province’s first Fair Trade Christmas campaign.

The “Have a Fair Trade Christmas” campaign is aimed at encouraging shoppers to consider gifts that are ethically produced, environmental sustainable, and the workers receive fair wages for their work.

Rick McDaniel is director of International programming at the YMCA and founder of Culture’s Boutique - the city’s first fair trade store, located in downtown Fredericton.

“What sets Culture’s Boutique apart is not just the unique products from around the world, but that we ensure that the artisans are paid fairly and that labor conditions are safe and non-exploitative,” said McDaniel. “The purchases by Cultures are also guided by the principle that the raw materials used to make the items sold are harvested in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. “

Culture’s Boutique has teamed up with the local Chapter of the Martime-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS) for the campaign. In 2001, BTS launched its own of brand of Breaking the Silence coffee, to support a cooperative of small farmers in Guatemala by creating a market in the Maritimes for their dark roast, organic coffee. The coffee is roasted by Just Us coffee in Nova Scotia.

“It has been a difficult year for our partners in Guatemala because of severe flooding and landslides. Many families have lost their homes and community buildings,” says BTS member Valerie Kilfoil. “One of the ways we can all make a difference is by using our buying power to support fair trade. Our partners in Guatemala do not want hand outs. They want a sustainable livelihood based on fairness and respect. That is what fair trade is based on.”

Kilfoil said the idea for the “Have a Fair Trade Christmas campaign” came about because of the current situation of their partners in Guatemala. “The situation is quite desperate in some areas where they need rebuild their communities. So the more coffee we sell, the more they earn. And this coffee is not only delicious, but it makes really great stocking stuffers or Christmas gifts for those hard to buy for people.”

Teaming up with Culture’s Boutique, which also has its own Honduran Solidarity Blend of coffee roasted by Just Us, offers shoppers a wide selection of fair trade projects. Culture’s offers unique jewellery, clothing, decorations, handicrafts and other gift ideas from around the world

The two organizations have set up a FairtradeNB Facebook site where different products and special offers will be featured between now and Christmas. BTS will be offering a special $10 Christmas gift bag of one 12 oz bag of Breaking the Silence organic, dark roast coffee (ground or beans) and one fair trade chocolate bar (organic dark or milk chocolate).

Please visit the Facebook site for more information!

BTS COFFEE FOR SALE!

Glorious, delicious BTS coffee (ground and whole bean) for sale!

$10 a bag... that beats the store price these days and over $3 per bag goes to human rights accompaniment.

So how can you go wrong? With the chilly days of fall here, birthdays, work parties, and the holidays just around the corner order your "Justice in a Cup" coffee as soon as possible!

Please e-mail directly: btsaccompaniment@gmail.com

Monday, November 1, 2010

Guatemala’s New Civil Conflict: The Case of Ramiro Choc

https://nacla.org/node/6706

Aug 30 2010
Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens

On February 14, 2008 six police officers pulled community leader Ramiro Choc from a public bus to Guatemala City, detained him, and took him to an unknown location. In the seconds before the police reached him, Choc had called his lawyer — a call he believed saved his life. Choc, a Q’eqchi’ community leader, has been fighting for indigenous people’s land rights in Guatemala’s volatile departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal since the 1990s. His story illustrates both the tension and boisterous mobilization of the people around land and natural resource issues in this area of Guatemala. To this mobilization, the Guatemalan government is responding by criminalizing peasant leaders, militarizing regions slated for development projects, and using environmental “protected areas” to exclude indigenous people. This combination of ingredients has become the core of Guatemala’s new civil conflict.

The federal government arrested Choc on trumped up charges of occupying and stealing land, aggravated robbery, and illegal detention. He has now been sentenced to six years in prison in a case in which Guatemala’s National Police provided most of the testimony against him. The accusations came after he mediated a land dispute between an indigenous community and a powerful landowner, when called in by the governor of the department of Izabal as a moral authority. Most likely, however, it wasn’t Choc’s mediation skills that landed him in prison, it was his years of community activism.

This is nothing new for Guatemala’s indigenous leaders, who systematically face harassment and criminalization when they fight to protect their land, resources, and way of life. The Unidad de Defensores/as de Derechos Humanos en Guatemala (UDEFGUA) reports 592 cases of criminalization of defenders of human rights between 2004 and 2009. In 2004, a law established “aggravated usurpation [of land]” as a criminal offense punishable by two to six years in prison, opening the door for these cases. Since the passage of the 2004 law, large landowners have worked with national and multinational corporations and local political authorities to denounce “invaders,” which almost always are people from indigenous, rural, and economically poor communities, and then work in concert to displace these communities from their land. This is how Guatemala’s new resource conflict is executed.

Alta Verapaz and Izabal, where Choc has been working actively for the past two decades to restore land to indigenous communities, together represent nearly half of these cases. These departments are at the core of inextricably linked development projects that include the construction of the Franja Transversal del Norte (FTN) a highway that, when its construction is finished, will run from Mexico to Colombia, traversing the region where mining, petroleum, and hydroelectric dams are concentrated in Guatemala. The FTN also will run through the Technological Corridor Project (CTG) a $12 billion private initiative supported by USAID to link Guatemala’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts through two new ports in Izabal and Jutiapa, a four-lane highway, cargo rail, an international airport, and inter-oceanic oil and gas pipelines. (Business News Americas Feb. 12, 2010) Although the government presents these transportation innovations as means to benefit the indigenous communities that dominate these regions, they are principally designed to provide transport for the products of the rising number of mega-projects being developed along the FTN.

In Alta Verapaz and Izabal these mega-projects include hydroelectric dams, petroleum exploitation, mining, and export agriculture. Choc is only one of the thousands of Q’eqchi’ people in these departments actively mobilizing to stop or delay “development projects.” The successes have been important and startling, and most likely are the motive behind new governmental strategies used against activist communities.

In the Ixcán, 144 communities came together in 2007 for a non-binding popular consultation regarding Xalalá, a hydroelectric dam central to Guatemala’s development programs. Nineteen thousand of the 21,155 who took part in the consultation opposed the dam, leading to the withdrawal of international funding in 2008 and a hold on the project. In San Marcos, indigenous communities with the support of national unions and environmental groups engaged in massive protest and an appeal to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) in order to stop Canadian Gold Corp/Marlin Mines from mining exploitation. The CIDH supported their appeal and this month, the government conceded and stopped mining operations, which have grossly contaminated water, land, and air, leading to birth defects and illness among Maya residents of the municipalities of Sipacapa y San Miguel Ixtahuacán. In San Juan Sacatepequez, Maya communities are providing to “Cementos Progreso,” a private company that has a monopoly on the manufacture of cement in Guatemala, which is working to establish a cement factory in the area. The factory would have a devastating environmental impact, primarily dust pollution.

Indigenous communities have been so successful at organizing, that CGN, a Nickel Mining subsidiary of Canadian HudBay Resources, whose Fenix Project dominates the department of Izabal, has included a statement in its annual report to shareholders asserting that “uncertain land tenure for many indigenous people, could have adverse effects on the Fenix Project. Such adverse effects could result from the local populations encroaching on Fenix Project land, challenging the boundaries of such land, impeding Fenix Project activities through roadblocks or other public manifestations or attacking Fenix Project assets or personnel.” (Hudbay Minerals Annual Information Form, March 31, 2009 at http://www.sedar.com) In other words, these mobilizations have become a threat to foreign investment, and the Guatemalan government is aware of this.

In July, Guatemala’s president Alvaro Colom renewed a 15-year petroleum-extraction contract for Perenco, a French company drilling in the center of the Laguna del Tigre national park, a protected area in Guatemala’s northern jungles in the Petén. Ominously, the contract included the condition that the company provide $5 million to support six newly established military bases of “Green Batallions” in the Petén to guard the “protected areas” by ensuring that they contained no “illegal settlements.” The “illegal settlements” are often indigenous communities that have been declared “invaders” and expelled because of the “environmental degradation” they might cause.

In addition to re-establishing military bases in the Petén, Colom’s government has announced plans to re-establish military bases in the Ixcán, San Marcos, Izabal, and Rabinal,Baja Verapaz. These are the very regions devastated by military repression and massacres during Guatemala’s thirty-six year armed conflict (1960-1996). Opening military bases in a country where a civil war killed 200,000 people (93% attributed to the army) seems to be a strong political statement with implicit threats. Significantly, these are the regions where the new mega-projects associated with the FTN are being established. The government argues that it is responding to community demands for protection against “delinquency,” but indigenous leaders argue that those appeals come from the ladino-dominated urban centers of the departments with ties to political and economic interests, while most rural Maya communities oppose re-militarization.

Militarized zones, like the “Green Batallions” in the Petén, strengthen the government’s ability to expel “invaders.” In Livingston, Izabal, the site of the conflict that led to Ramiro Choc’s imprisonment, the situation is especially acute. Powerful national and multinational companies (including Perenco), large local landowners, politicians, and drug traffickers all seek to control land.

Choc’s situation illustrates the risks of activism in Guatemala. He has been intimately involved in these struggles working with the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC), the Coordinadora Nacional Indigena y Campesina (CONIC), the Catholic Church, and later with a group called Campesino Encounter to help indigenous communities restore legal control over their land in Izabal and Alta Verapaz. Guatemala’s El Periódico reports that of the 132 land conflicts in Izabal, authorities identify 15 as “illegal occupation.” Campesino Encounter is engaged in five of those 15 cases, and has been less willing to “settle” when landed interests demand that Q’eqchi’ communities abandon their ancestral lands.

If Choc is forced to complete his prison term of six years, his experience of the land he has devoted his life to defending will be reduced to tending the Jacaranda and Chico trees that he has been allowed to cultivate in his prison Section’s “courtyard.” As Sergio Manfredo Beltetón, an attorney for CUC representing Choc, concluded, Ramiro Choc is identified as a political prisoner for the simple reason that if he were not a leader, he would not be in prison. One method the government is using to resolve peasant conflicts with powerful economic interests, concluded Beltetón, is through criminal prosecution. It is the “criminalization of the peasant struggle.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

Carmen Mejia is at risk because she campaigns to protect human rights threatened by a mining company

http://www.amnesty.ca/atrisk/index.php/carmen-mejia/?utm_source=speakout&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=AtRisk

Carmen's Story

Carmen Mejía is from a Mayan community in Guatemala. Her life is at risk because she is campaigning against impacts of mining on her community's human rights.

“You shouldn’t defend human rights, or you’ll be killed.”

Carmen received this warning several times in June. Carmen works for a development organization that represents members of Indigenous communities seeking to protect their right to water, land, housing, freedom of expression and cultural identity. She has spoken at public meetings about her concerns about the Marlin Mine, which is owned by a subsidiary of Canadian mining company Goldcorp.

In July, a month after Carmen received death threats, someone shot her fellow grassroots activist, Deodora Hernandez, in the eye at close range. At the time, Deodora was speaking out about the impact of a mine on her community's water supply. She was seriously wounded, but she survived. The attempt on Deodora’s life underscores how seriously we must take the threats made against Carmen Mejía.

TAKE ACTION: Please add your name to Amnesty's petition to the Guatemalan authorities calling on them to respect the rights of Carmen Mejía and other community activists seeking to protect their right to water, land, housing, freedom of expression and cultural identity. IT ONLY TAKES A MINUTE TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT:

http://www.amnesty.ca/atrisk/index.php/carmen-mejia/?utm_source=speakout&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=AtRisk#take-action

Friday, October 8, 2010

Open Letter to President of Simon Fraser University upon receipt of multi-million dollar donation from Goldcorp Inc.

Simon Fraser University
President Andrew Petter
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, BC, Canada, V5A-1S6
petter@sfu.ca, 250.721.8183, 778.782.4641, 778.782.4860


Dear Mr. Petter,

First let me congratulate you, belatedly, on your appointment as president of Simon Fraser University.

Although we have never met, I cherish your family. Mrs. Petter, your dear mother, was my ballet teacher in Nelson in the 70s, and once she even came to our house and made authentic Austrian apple strudel with my mother. Your sister, Marion, Miss Petter to me then and forever, was one of the most important persons in my life.

When I was in grade two, Nelson was a narrow place. I was a weird child, obsessed with reading and writing. I had decided to discard my given name, Maureen, and adopt the much more poetic, Emilie. Life was hard and people, especially boys, were mean. Your sister released me from this constricting environment, and quite literally opened the world up, affirming my right to be me, fierce and different. She told me to read my head off, and to write, write, write.

Miss Petter's gift is the reason I find myself here, in the high, cold mountains of Guatemala. I am an Anglican priest, and a theologian, and a writer. Here I have found myself in the midst of the swirling debate around Canadian mining interests, which are prowling the country, and digging up a huge mess, just to the west of me, under the banner of Goldcorp, Inc.

We Canadians are considered in these lands to be the new conquistadores. We have come to pillage and to steal, and to leave nothing behind in our wake, but a few shaky schools, a road or two, and communities polluted and divided.

So distraught was I a few years ago to discover that Canadians are heading these rapacious and devastating practices that I pulled up short half-way through my master's degree, changed my thesis topic, and researched and wrote about Maya concepts of Sacred Land.

That is why I was shocked and horrified to read that our beloved Simon Fraser University has accepted a pay-off of $10 million dollars from Goldcorp, ostensibly to fund its new Arts Centre in Vancouver's downtown eastside.

Let me tell you a few things I have learned about Goldcorp during my five years of engagement with this topic:

Goldcorp Inc. has stained these sacred hills where I live. Their controversial Marlin mine, built without proper community consultation, on the treasured land of the Maya-Mam and Maya-Sipakapense peoples, has caused untold strife and divisions in the area. Water sources have been contaminated, and the sheer quantity of water-used in the open-pit, cyanide-leaching process - six million litres a day - is inconceivable in a region where housewives and farmers have struggled with extreme water shortages.

There have been two murders of community activists protesting the mine, and just this past July, Diodora Hernandez, a neighbour and vocal opponent to the mine, was shot in the face by unknown gunmen. Miraculously, she survived.

The communities of Sipakapa, and San Miguel Ixtahuacan, where the mine is located, have held referendums rejecting mining, elected anti-mining mayors and councils, have visited the World Bank (who proportioned a $45 million loan to set up the "low-cost" Marlin mine). They have undertaken countless actions to defend their land.

On May 20th of this year, the Organization of American States, through their Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, issued precautionary measures to the Guatemalan government ordering the closure of the mine. In June, the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Rights, James Anaya, declared after a visit to the mining region, his particular concern with the way Goldcorp has ignored the community consultation process. On June 26th the weak and ineffectual Guatemalan government asked Goldcorp to pretty-please shut down.

The mine has churned away, their Guatemalan and Canadian directors willfully ignoring these directives, from the highest to the most humble sources.

Goldcorp has made me ashamed to be Canadian. If people here ask where I'm from, I answer, truthfully, that I was born in Argentina. In truth, I have dedicated myself in these hills to manifesting a different kind of Canadian. One who bases her actions on listening and respect.

My region, Santa Cruz del Quiche, is gearing up this coming month to hold its consulta comunitaria de buena fe. Eighty-seven villages in the municipality will raise their hands and decide - are they going to permit the introduction of mining in their territory, on their sacred land?

The Maya have suffered - and survived - the original Spanish invasion, then the most brutal genocide when between 1978 - 1985 more than 200,000 were murdered by state forces. A Maya compadre told me that the difference between the Maya before the genocide and now, is that now the communities know and understand about their rights -- their nationally and internationally-recognised rights to be who they are, to act and to think differently from the dominant culture.

Goldcorp sees the mountain, and dollar signs glow in their eyes. The Maya are in love with their treasured Mother Earth, they know how to tend to her, to care for her, to coax her time and again to share her abundance with her often ungrateful children.

Now then, dear Mr. Petter, I ask you in the name of all Guatemalans hurt now by the Marlin mine and its horrendous practices, and those who will be damaged in the future, to say no thank you to Goldcorp's blood money. And next time you see Miss Petter, please tell her that her gift to me, the gift of free and responsible thinking to a seven-year old, has never been forgotten.


Emilie

Wrenching Testimony and a Historic Sentence: US Court Convicts Dos Erres Perpetrator for Lying about Role in Massacre.

http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/wrenching-testimony-and-a-historic-sentence-us-court-convicts-dos-erres-perpetrator-for-lying-about-role-in-massacre/#more-1926

September 17, 2010
by Kate Doyle

History was made yesterday when a U.S. District Court Judge in Southern Florida, William J. Zloch, sentenced former Guatemalan special forces soldier Gilberto Jordán to ten years in federal prison. Jordán was convicted of lying on his citizenship application to hide his role in the 1982 massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Dos Erres, Guatemala. In condemning Jordán to the maximum time allowed by law for naturalization fraud, Judge Zloch made clear that he intended the ruling to send a clear message that “those who commit egregious human rights violations abroad” cannot find “safe haven from prosecution” in the United States. The sentence marks the first time that any of the dozens of Kaibil special forces who carried out the murders almost 28 years ago has been prosecuted.

The Dos Erres massacre took place as the most intense phase of the Guatemalan government’s scorched earth policies was winding down in December 1982. According to witness testimony, and corroborated through U.S. declassified archives, the Kaibiles entered the town of Dos Erres on the morning of December 6, 1982, and separated the men from women and children. They started torturing the men and raping the women and by the afternoon they had killed almost the entire community, including the children. More than 250 people are believed to have died, their bodies thrown into a dry well or left in nearby fields.

Jordán, who was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at his home in Delray, Florida, on May 5, confessed to throwing a baby down the well at the start of the massacre and bringing dozens of other men, women and children to the well to be killed. His crime in the United States, however, was lying on the form he filled out in 1996 when he applied to become a United States citizen. On the form, he did not reveal his 12-year service in the Guatemalan Army, and he failed to check the box asking “Have you ever committed a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?”

Normally, sentencing guidelines recommend 0-6 months followed by deportation for naturalization fraud. The U.S. criminal code allows for a sentence outside the suggested range, however, if “there exists an aggravated or mitigating circumstance of any kind… not taken into consideration by the Sentencing Commission…” In his Fort Lauderdale courtroom yesterday, Judge Zloch called the crimes committed by Jordán by participating in the massacre “unprecedented,” noting that there was no example in previous cases of a defendant having lied about “participating in mass murder.”

The sentencing hearing began on September 15, when Jordán was led by a U.S. marshal into the courtroom wearing a beige prison uniform, his ankles shackled and hands cuffed before him. He hobbled to the defense table and was given headphones so that he could listen to the proceedings in Spanish through an interpreter. Behind him sat his wife and other members of his family, including a son in a U.S. Marines uniform.

Also present was Ramiro Osorio Cristales, now 33 years old, who was five when his family was killed during the massacre. Ramiro – who took the stand for the government as one of the only two known surviving witnesses of the Dos Erres massacre – described watching as his mother, younger brother and baby sister were murdered by the Kaibil soldiers. He saw the bodies of his father and four more brothers in the ruins of the village as he was led away once the killing was over. Ramiro survived because one of the Kaibles responsible for the slaughter of his family decided to adopt him.

In asking for an increased sentence, government attorney Hillary Davidson argued that the “atrocities” committed by Jordán and his fellow Kaibiles were “inextricably intertwined with the lie Jordán told” to gain citizenship. Though Jordán’s defense lawyer Robin Rosen-Evans pointed out that Jordán had lived peacefully in the United States for more than twenty years and urged the judge to consider only the “act of concealment” in his sentencing decision, Davidson countered that the hearing was not about “a paradigmatic naturalization fraud case where the crime is shoplifting,” but concerned acts of mass murder that “wiped an entire village off the face of this earth.”

The judge agreed, and appeared incredulous at some of the arguments made by the defense. When Rosen-Evans asked the court to recognize that Jordán had been acting during the massacre under orders from his superiors, Judge Zloch shot back: “Well, if that’s the case then individuals on trial at Nuremberg would not have been convicted.”

The hearing ended following the lawyers’ final arguments and resumed the next day with Judge Zloch’s decision. Calling the crime “reprehensible,” the judge stated that he was “unaware of a more serious basis of immigration fraud than the mass murder of innocent civilians.” He pointed out that by achieving citizenship Jordán hid his brutal past from the United States government and from “his neighbors,” and avoided justice in Guatemala. In calling for the maximum of ten years, Zloch said, “Anything less would be totally inadequate as just punishment for this crime.”

The ruling was the result of an innovative collaboration between the Department of Justice and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the working level. Lawyers, analysts and agents worked together for more than a year to identify Jordán and three other former Kaibiles allegedly involved in the massacre, now living in the United States. Jordán is the first of the four cases to go to trial.

Despite Judge Zloch’s suggestion that Jordán has evaded Guatemalan justice by living in the United States, there has been no conviction in Guatemala for the terrible massacre. Although the government opened a criminal investigation in 1994 with the first exhumation of bodies from the well, the case has been pending for 16 years and only recently appeared to take on new life. On September 8, a judge in Guatemala ruled that three of 17 former Kaibiles accused of taking part in the massacre can now be tried. The trial is expected to start within days. Among the evidence the prosecution will seek to introduce are declassified U.S. documents provided by the National Security Archive. The documents reveal shortly after the Kaibil operation, U.S. officials investigated the massacre and concluded that the Army was the only force capable of such an organized atrocity. The National Security Archive obtained the documents through Freedom of Information requests sent on behalf of our Guatemala Documentation Project in 1995.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sorry: US Apologizes for Syphilis and Gonorrhea Experiments on Guatemalans

US researchers infected patients with STDs without their consent in the 1940s

by Robert Bazell

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/10/01-6

US government medical researchers intentionally infected hundreds of people in Guatemala, including institutionalized mental patients, with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission more than 60 years ago.

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius apologized for the United States Friday for funding a 1940s study in which hundreds of Guatemalans were deliberately infected with syphilis and gonorrhea without their consent. Many of those infected were encouraged to pass the infection onto others as part of the study.

About one third of those who were infected never got adequate treatment.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered extensive apologies for actions taken by the U.S. Public Health Service.

"The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical," according to the joint statement from Clinton and Sebelius. "Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health. We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices."

The apology was directed to Guatemala and to Hispanic residents of the United States, according to officials.

A telebriefing with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Affairs is expected around 11 a.m. ET.

The episode raises inevitable comparisons to the infamous Tuskegee experiment, the Alabama study where hundreds of African-American men were told they were being treated for syphilis, but in fact were denied treatment. That U.S. government study lasted from 1932 until press reports revealed it in 1972.

The Guatemala experiments, which were conducted between 1946 and 1948, never provided any useful information and the records were hidden.

They were discovered by Susan Reverby, a professor of women's studies at Wellesley College, and was posted on her website.

According to Reverby's report, the Guatemalan project was co-sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, the NIH, the Pan-American Health Sanitary Bureau (now the Pan American Health Organization) and the Guatemalan government. The experiments involved 696 subjects - male prisoners and female patients in the National Mental Health Hospital.

The researchers were trying to determine whether the antibiotic penicillin could prevent early syphilis infection, not just cure it, Reverby writes. After the subjects were infected with the syphilis bacteria - through visits with prostitutes who had the disease and direct inoculations - Reverby notes that it is unclear whether they were later cured or given proper treatment.

Reverby, who has written extensively about the Tuskegee experiments, found the evidence while conducting further research on the Alabama syphilis study.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Honouring their Sacrifices

The following post is an update from Patrick Chasse, who has been working as a Breaking the Silence volunteer with the CCDA:

Outside of Santiago de Atitlan there is a park. It isn't much to look at, mossy flag stones and dying flowers laid at the edge of weatherworn stones. But these stones were once the walls of a repressive military garrison that oversaw hundreds of forced disappearances and murders in the Santiago region during the 1980s. On December 1st, 1990 rowdy troops took to harassing local women in Santiago. In a brave act of defiance, some villagers began throwing stones at the soldiers and the soldiers responded by firing on the crowd, killing one person. The whole community rallied in outrage and marched the gates of the military garrison, but the army responded with further violence and opened fire. Eleven were killed and forty injured in the pre-dawn shootings. Soon reporters arrived from the tourist town of Panajachel and took damning pictures of bodies lying in front of the military base. With international pressure and local organization, the community of Santiago Atitlan was able to force the military to leave their community. In the 1990s, when the military still exercised power in the country, this was a considerable feat that allowed people to begin contemplating an end to the civil war in the country.

Today, the peace park is flanked by coffee and corn and sits astride of a disused road. An uninformed tourist would hardly spare it a second glance; not that casual tourists would pass by this stretch of highway that connects the culturally vibrant Santiago with the hippie drug hub of San Pedro de la Laguna. It's faster and easier for tourists to jump on one of the frequent boats that ferry passengers between these two towns. It's also safer. In one of Guatemala's sad ironies, Santiago's peace park happens to sit on a stretch of road well know for robberies and assaults. There are many such roads in the rugged mountains of Guatemala as any isolated stretch can be quickly turned into a trap for unwary drivers.

On the nauseating mountain road between Santa Cruz del Quiche and Chichicastenango there is another site marred by violence, locals call it El Molino. Here there are no flag stones and no flowers; this site is remembered and honoured only in the cobwebbed spaces of collective memory. A few nights ago I was returning to Quixaya from Quiche after an evening meeting. It was dark and spitting rain, and despite the brisk air the black road seemed to covered in a blanket of white steam. Our car rounded bend after bend, each time descending further into the valley below. For each curve we had to slow the car down to a crawl and make a wide turn to clear the hairpin bend. So for a moment the pine forest loomed in front of us, and then was quickly forgotten as we speed down to the next turn. Just after we cleared one of these turns, Leocadio spoke up. It was that spot, he said, that spot we just passed where the outspoken journalist Jorge Carpio Nicolle was murdered on his way back from Quiche in 1993. On July 3, his car was assaulted by 30 masked men and he was killed, along with three political allies riding in the same car. No one knew exactly why, but many suspected that he was killed in a political-military move to intimidate his cousin who had just become President a month earlier after a failed self-coup by President Jorge Serrano Elias. Carpio Nicolle himself was an outspoken critic of the right-wing groups that maintained a firm, if discreet, control of Guatemalan politics. In his editorials he vocally rejected that military figures and civilians involved in the self coup should be allowed any sort of amnesty. The government of the day maintained that his murder was the act of common criminals. This quick, offhand memory tinged the dark night roads with suspicion and made for a tense drive back home broken only by occasional jibes and jokes that were borne of friendship. Once again, I amazed by the Guatemalan ability to live and laugh even in the shadow of repression.

This hazily remembered stretch of road and Santiago's peace park are both wilting monuments to Guatemala's 36 year civil war. These sites and hundreds more are remembered in edifice and memory as sites of state crime and organized repression. On paper, Guatemala's civil war ended in 1996 with the signing of the Peace Accords; but fourteen years have passed and only a few war crimes have been prosecuted. Those few who choose to investigate or testify as to their experiences during the war years are hounded by death threats. Most criminals, especially wealthy ones, bask in impunity knowing full well that the justice system in Guatemala is paralysed by corruption, underfunding, and political influence.

Violence thrives in this post-conflict era, with murders, assassinations and tales of extortion filling the front pages of the newspapers. In 2009 there were 6, 500 people murdered in Guatemala, that's double the rate of murders per capita than in neighbouring Mexico and higher than the murder rate during the civil war. A recent report from the Interational Crisis Group sums up the situation neatly.

Guatemala has become a paradise for criminals, who have little to fear from prosecutors owing to high levels of impunity. An overhaul of the security forces in the wake of the peace accords created an ineffective and deeply corrupt police. High-profile assassinations and the government’s inability to reduce murders have produced paralysing fear, a sense of helplessness and frustration. In the past few years, the security environment has deteriorated further, and the population has turned to vigilantism as a brutal and extra-institutional way of combating crime. (IGC, “Guatemala: Squeezed Between Crime and Impunity” 22 June, 2010)

It would be simplistic and unfair to reach the conclusion that things were better during the war. A recent report by the Alliance for the Protection of Defenders of Human Rights in Guatemalan (UDEFEGUA) notes that little by little grassroots social movements are successfully pushing for changes in Guatemala's political and economic system. Nevertheless, I have heard many express grudgingly that during the war there was terror, but terror had its rules. The military brought a diabolically order to the country that many yearn for in today's climate of seemingly random violence. A recent report by the Vanderbilt University based Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) asked if a military coup was justified in view of crime, 53% of the population polled said yes.

Yet crime in Guatemala is not so random as it seems; much of it is tied to illicit criminal activity, political corruption, and private industry. Years after the signing of the Peace Accords, human rights defenders are increasing using their freedom of expression to denounce endemic state corruption, racial and sexual discrimination, and the unjust distribution of land in Guatemala. But these same human rights defenders often become targets of a campaign of disinformation and criminalization that seeks to discredit or co-opt them. UDEFEGUA notes that years after the end of the war, human rights defenders continue to be smeared as “guerrilleros” (guerillas), “terroristas” (terrorists), “pajeros”, “desestabilizadores” (destabilizers) y “defensores de delincuentes. (defenders of delinquents)”. These personal attacks often pave the way for eventual prosecution in the courts. One key observation of the UDEFEGUA report is that intimidation and criminalization intensified when human rights defenders threaten the interests of private companies. But I suppose that this is hardly a surprise for any of us familiar with Goldcorp's activities in defence of the Marlin Mine.

In a telling reflection on how little has changed in Guatemala since the 1954 overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz, agrarian conflicts between private companies and indigenous-campesinos remain among the most contentious issues in the country. Between 2004 and 2009, 323 human rights defenders were criminalized or threatened in their fight for a more equitable distribution of land in Guatemala. During this period, about 98 human rights defenders were criminalized in their fight for indigenous rights and 70 union leaders were also attacked for criticizing Guatemala's terrible labour standards. In this context Leocadio Juracan of the CCDA, a vocal indigenous-campesino leader fighting for equitable distribution of land and better labour standards, is a particularly vulnerable target for criminalization and threats.

In this country, political intimidation can't easily be linked back to political interests, military factions or private companies. Instead, shadowy networks of gangs, social cleansing groups, ex-military members, and narco traffickers have all become perpetrators of violence. In a sea of unchecked criminality, it's incredibly difficult to understand where death threats might be coming from and even more difficult to push the government to investigate and prosecute cases of intimidation and outright murder. Perhaps this is why the newspapers are consumed with daily machinations of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. In recent months they have been able to break a number of high level cases of political corruption implicating high level officials in money laundering, drug running, the assassination of prisoners, etc. But while the internationally funded CICIG has made headway in investigating high level cases of political crime and corruption, it has done very little to investigate the dizzying numbers of threats and murders facing human rights defenders in Guatemala. For change to happen, for peace to truly blossom human rights defenders need to be given room to express themselves without living in a constant state of fear. While CICIG helps to clean up Guate's government they ignore the social sector; in doing so they ignore the systemic reasons for raging corruption and violence in this beautiful country. That is the organized intimidation of and discrimination against indigenous and campesino leaders who are fighting for a more equitable distribution of land and basic labor standards. Even if overt criminality were purged from the government tomorrow, most Guatemalan's would still live in grinding poverty. The minimum daily wage of 56 Q, for example, only covers about 57% of basic living expenses. What's worse is that most companies only pay 30 to 35 Q, and take extreme measures to avoid paying any sort of benefits. The result is that about 2 million Guatemalan's live in extreme poverty (not being able to afford even basic food, never mind shelter) and about half of Guatemalan's (6.6 million) can't afford basic living expenses like housing, transportation, schooling, etc. In this context, social leaders and community groups ought to be able to advocate for real and substantive changes in this country without fearing for their lives.

I end where I began, on the roads ringing the beautiful Lago Atitlan. I was running errands with the CCDA's driver the other day; picking up wood for the new medical clinic, getting supplies that the workers needed to finish building the second level of the coffee beneficio, and ferrying a Canadian delegation from Santiago to San Lucas. In the afternoon heat of San Lucas, the driver and I waited with windows open for the mechanic to return from his lunch break. We chatted about family, friends, and joked a bit about love and girlfriends. As we chatted, a woman walked by clutching the hand of her small daughter. The driver leaned over to me and told me in hushed tones that her husband—a prominent local doctor—was killed a few weeks ago. I asked why, and he shrugged, shook his head, and told me he didn't know for sure. There were rumours that it was a crime of passion, a jealous act of vengeance perhaps. She passed and we stopped talking. I thought about her and her daughter for some time afterward. I thought about Santiago and the war, about San Lucas and it's current problems with social cleansing and drug trafficking. I'm still thinking about all of this, to be honest. But it seems to me that the peace park in Santiago and the mourning mother in San Lucas represent the old war and the new war, respectively.

Rumours leave no legacies, and few memories. Perhaps this doctor's death had nothing to do with politics, and perhaps it did. But with a paltry 2% of murder cases successfully prosecuted in Guatemala nobody will likely ever know for sure. A 2008 study found that 58% of victims didn't even report crimes to the police, because most felt that it didn't do any good. Since there are few meaningful investigations and prosecutions, grisly headlines in the national dailies serve as the only public legacy of most murders. The newspapers list causes of death that are various and shifting—gangs, narcos, jealousy and delinquency. Most don't mention systemic inequality and spell-binding poverty as the real reason for Guate's surging murder rate and social unrest. Most don't mention that systemic violence and perpetual fear serve the interests of the rich and political elite quite nicely by allowing for the intimidation of labour and indigenous leaders. Leaders who fight to improve the quality of life of their communities so that the poor can live with dignity. So I find myself wondering, if the post-conflict era ever ends who will build a peace park to remember the thousands who are dying in this country every year? Every day dozens of families carry out private ceremonies of grief and remembrance to honour the memories of their dearly beloved. The newspapers treat these deaths as individual tragedies, and so families are isolated in their grief. These are not isolated tragedies but rather the senseless result of a system that feeds on human tragedy and misfortune to enrich a very select elite. How do you remember these deaths and acknowledge that many died—were sacrificed—so that others could profit and live lavishly?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Agatha and the Number Crunchers


Below is an update from Patrick Chasse, who is currently working as a BTS volunteer with the CCDA:

We had a really great presentation this morning by a woman from CONGCOOP, an NGO that works with NGO's and Co-operatives here in Guatemala. First the scene. The CCDA salon was bursting with people, many of whom had come long distances to hear Zully Morales speak. These were the grassroots representatives of the CCDA, and came from as far away as Coban, Huehue, and Quiche. I'll say a few more words about these rep's later. Mrs. Morales came to talk about the budget of MAGA (the Ministery of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food); a vitally important department in a country of where most people depend on small scale farming. Theoretically, they should be helping small farmers improve their crop yields, get access to land, and thinking about issues like food security. But reality doesn't have much to do with theory in Guate. Looking through the numbers provided by Mrs. Morales it's pretty clear that the current government isn't doing anything but paying lip service to the plight of small farmers. Consider this, the budget of MAGA in 2007 was 1, 305.24 million Quetzales and the department actually spent more, 1 430.41 million. Every year since the budget of the department has been cut, now in 2010, its frozen at 827.58 million. The budget has been cut despite the fact that food security is a major issue facing small food producers in this country. Last year in the Eastern part of Guate was gripped by near famine. With the explosion of Pacaya, the arrival of Agatha and the incessant rains this year looks to be even worse. (see this article in the Atlantic for a good overview of last years food shortage:(http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/08/hungry-in-guatemala/7675/)

The current economic impact of Agatha is pegged at approximately 646.7 million Q, or over half the budget of MAGA. The department currently has a paltry 15.83 million Q assigned to help the production of basic grains. Even if there wasn't a food crisis, this would be a pretty low number for a country where most people depend on subsistence farming to survive. Yet with losses to corn crops reaching over 81.5 million Q by MAGA's own estimates, small scale producers need economic help and they need it fast. Unfortunately, Congress has been dragging its heels and still hasn't approved emergency aid for people affected by Agatha. International funds donated after Agatha have been used to help rebuild bridges and roads instead of helping small producers get back on their feet. To use a local example, growers of Berro in Quixaya used to make around 800 Q monthly on the sale of berro (watercress) and the small snails that lived among the berro. When the river rose it destroyed most of the berro plantations on the river, not to mention bananas, pacaya, etc. Recently the Alcalde of San Lucas came by to offer help in the form of alternative crops; he made the outrageous offer to sell hass avocado plants to locals at around 25 Q a plant (the CCDA sells them for maximum 15Q, or two Canadian dollars a plant).

But it isn't simply a question of underfunding that plagues MAGA. A closer look at the budget shows a consistent trend. The government will approve x amount of dollars for a program, and then quietly spend far less on said program. For example, the Agricultural Development and Food Assistance Program (key for small producers) was cut by 116.95 million Q from 481.94 million Q down to 364.98 million Q. Of that, only 36.53% had been spent by June.

Not only is this trend simply troubling, but it has real social impacts in a country trying to rebuild its infrastructure after Agatha. One program that MAGA manages is Food for Progress. The idea is pretty simple, the government will cover the food costs associated with volunteers working on community projects. CONGCOOP argues that if this program was properly managed it would help clean up Agatha related damages that are affecting many communities. Indeed, the Government increased the Food for Progress budget by 10 million Q to 25 million Q at the start of the year. They may have increased the budget but in six months they spent a paltry 1.09 million Q (4.28%).

These are funding decisions with decisive short term impacts. Yet MAGA has also been stingy in its funding of El Fondo de Tierras (the land fund that is supposed to help campesinos buy unused fincas). Supposedly the Fund is planning to buy 10 fincas this year, and has allotted almost 45 million Q to this. Yet we're at the half way point in the year and the Fund has only bought two fincas. In contrast, the Fund has alloted over double the amount of money (110 Q) to help small farmer lease or rent small plots of land from large land owners (finqueros). The politics of this supposedly social democratic government of Alvaro Colom and UNE are clear: help large landowners and stall small farmers trying to gain land and make slight improvements in their standard of life. Instead, small producers are relegated to perpetual renting and they struggle year upon year to pay for their right to scratch out a meager living. It's a situation that equates pretty readily with medieval serfdom.

If you are still in doubt, consider this. One program in the MAGA budget has seen a substantial increase this year. It's called Secure Food Aid (Apoyo a la seguridad alimentaria) and it's budget was almost doubled this year from 67.12 million Q to 117.17 million Q this year. Oh, and they've already spent almost 80% in just six months. What are they spending this money on? The President's wife, Sandra Colom, is in charge of social assistance programs like Bolsas Solidarias and Mi Familia Progressa (or, as the CCDA staff jokes, mi familia probreza—probreza means poor). Her projects are funded through this MAGA program. As Mrs. Morales pointed out, countries like Nicaragua have similar programs aimed at bridge the gaps between rich and poor in the short term but they received separate funding. So while MAGA slashes its programs that might effect slow but sure systemic changes—improving crop production and incomes for small scale farmers—it increases the amount of money it spends on one time hand outs that feed dependency.

So, the message is simple. Direct international aid to small NGO's like the CCDA is needed. The government should be pushed and bullied into funding small scale farmers trying to recover from Agatha. That's the CCDA's message and they have have a clear vision of their role; I've heard Leocadio say often and insistently we're not here to do the government's job we are here to push the government to do its job. But since effective and responsible government in Guate is still a pipe dream, direct aid through trustworthy NGO's is a desperately needed to help small farmers protect themselves from starvation.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wants There to be Justice


Guatemalan human rights activist, Jesús Tecú, received the Roger N. Baldwin Medal this week in New York, in recognition of his humanitarian work.
(Originally posted in Spanish in Prensa Libre: 22/5/2010, translation by Jackie McVicar)



The path towards humanitarian activism began with the loss of his parents and brother, who were assassinated by the military in the massacre of Rio Negro in March 1982, during the internal armed conflict.

How does this award help you in your work?

It strengthens the struggle for human rights and will inject energy amid the society we live in and some threats that I have received; it gives us courage to keep fighting.

Has your work for human rights been difficult since you started?

We support several cases, like that of Rio Negro, and cases like this is where the threats come from.

How are these cases going?

I’m a witness in the Rio Negro case. We have achieved the sentencing of several ex-civil defense patrollers and the warrant for Colonel Antonio Solares is pending. The authorities know where he is, but they don’t want to capture him.

What is your role in these cases?

I’m joint plaintiff in the open case in the Spanish National Court, which is investigating several military in the country for crimes committed during the armed conflict.

How do the threats against you make you feel about the Guatemalan justice system?

We can’t abandon the system we have. Our mission is to strengthen the law and we have done it for several years. We do not seek revenge, nor speak ill of our country.

We want there to be an investigation into the causes through the rule of law, but we know that currently, in a hundred cases in the Public Prosecutor’s office, only three are investigated.

Do you believe that the structures that led to the massacre of Rio Negro, where your family died, still have power in Guatemala?

Yes, because recently what has happened is that they have changed place; they haven’t been deactivated, and many times, they use delinquency to commit crimes and when they are discovered, they are the same ones who run them.

What has been achieved to date in this case?

In Chixoy, there has been a dialogue for the past six years without results and we don’t know when there will be justice.

What is the principle outcome you see from this situation of impunity?

Our grandparents our dying of sadness and of diseases provoked by the armed conflict and no one is concerned for them. I imagine they are waiting for all the victims to die, to avoid compensating the cost of the war.