Monday, October 25, 2010

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

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:

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, 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.


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

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

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.