Monday, February 28, 2011
The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala
Breaking the Silence
URGENT CONCERN FOR SAFETY OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS OF SAN MIGUEL IXTAHUACÁN FOLLOWING PEACEFUL PROTESTS
We denounce the human rights violations and abuses committed today against peaceful protesters in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala. The protest, demanding compliance with precautionary measures ordered by the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights regarding the Marlin mine, took place without incident during the day. In late afternoon, participants returning from the peaceful roadblocks were reportedly confronted and attacked by community development council (COCODE) members and mine workers in San José Ixcaniche.
According to participants in the protest, Miguel Angel Bámaca and Aniseto López were beaten and threatened with lynching; one bus including approximately 40 men and women have been illegally detained and some beaten in the community of San José Ixcaniche. As this alert is being written, they remain detained. We are deeply concerned that the lives of human rights defenders are at risk.
Contact has been established with the local Human Rights Procurator's (PDH) office, the local Presidential Commission for Defense of Human Rights (COPREDEH) and police, as well as national and international organizations to report these acts.
We ask you to stay alert and be ready to respond when more information and action requests are available from local organizations supporting communities resisting unjust mining in Guatemala.
Francois Guindon - email@example.com - +502 4014 7804
The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, USA
Cynthia Benoist - firstname.lastname@example.org
Collectif Guatemala, France
Jackie McVicar - email@example.com
Breaking the Silence, Canada
Grahame Russell - firstname.lastname@example.org - +502 4955 3634
Rights Action, Canada/USA
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
By Matthew Hill, 18th February 2011 http://www.miningweekly.com/article/guatemalan-widows-lawsuit-against-hudbay-could-be-precedent-setting-2011-02-18
TORONTO (miningweekly.com) - The trial of a Guatemalan woman who is suing Canadian miner HudBay Minerals for C$12-million in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for the death of her husband in 2009 is "probably years away", Angelica Choc's lawyer said on Thursday.
Choc, represented by Toronto law firm Klippensteins, claimed in court papers (court file number CV-10411159) that security forces under a HudBay Guatemalan subsidiary's employ "hacked and shot to death" her husband Adolfo Ich Chamán, who she said was an outspoken critic of the company in El Estor, located in the east of the Central American country.
TSX-listed HudBay bought a nickel project there in 2008, but slowed work on the mine in November that year because of market conditions at the time.
Ich Chamán died in the wake of a spate of community protests around the mine, called the Fenix project, in 2009. Choc alleged that CGN's then head of security CGN Mynor Ronaldo Padilla Gonzáles shot an unarmed Ich Chamán in the head at close range, citing eyewitnesses. She claimed the parent company, HudBay, failed in its duties.
HudBay, represented by Fasken Martineau Dumoulin, disputes this, saying it is confident CGN and its employees were not involved in Ich Chamán's death, based on its own investigations and eye witness reports.
Guatemala has since issued an arrest warrant for Padilla, though Choc's lawyers claimed he is still at large.
HudBay investor relations and corporate communications VP John Vincic said in reply to emailed questions that Padilla is on paid leave from CGN as there is "the presumption of innocence". "He is not operating in any capacity for the company at this time," he said.
An obstacle Choc has to overcome for the trial to be heard in Canada is convincing a judge that an Ontario courtroom is the suitable location the litigation to take place.
FORUM NON CONVENIENS
For the case to proceed in Ontario, Choc would have to prove that it is the most suitable jurisdiction. University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law assistant professor Sara Seck said on Friday Canadian courts have been reluctant to hear cases in which the defendant is a Canadian parent company and the alleged harm took place in another country, but that the legal landscape is changing on forum non conveniens.
"A case like this has never been heard in a Canadian court... It will be a very interesting case to follow," she said.
Forum non conveniens is a legal doctrine that states a court can dismiss a case if it finds it is not the most suitable jurisdiction for it to be tried. Cases have been brought by foreign citizens against Canadian companies in Canada for their actions elsewhere, but none have made it to trial yet. "It seems increasingly likely that such a case will be heard here," Seck said, adding that it was not guaranteed.
University of Ottawa faculty of law associate professor Penelope Simons agreed. She said there were a number of cases that foreigners had brought against Canadian companies over the past few years, and that "one of these cases will definitely get through" to trial. "The landscape is changing - there is a lot of awareness and a lot of concern around these issues. The courts are more knowledgeable now of them now," said Simons.
HudBay's Vincic said a case regarding Ich Chamán's death was currently before the court in Guatemala, and that "CGN has cooperated fully with the Guatemalan authorities and we intend to continue doing so until the investigations conclude".
PIERCING THE CORPORATE VEIL
Choc also argued that, through HMI Nickel, HudBay indirectly owns 98,2% of the shares of CGN, with the Guatemalan government holding the remainder, and that the Toronto-based parent company financed and supervised the Fenix security forces at all material times.
Piercing the corporate veil is a legal term, where a court can in exceptional circumstances hold the directors or shareholders of a company accountable for the corporation's actions.
"It is in the interests of justice to pierce the corporate veil and to impose liability for battery, wrongful imprisonment and wrongful death directly against the parent corporation, HudBay Minerals," Choc said in her statement of claim.
Klippensteins lawyer Murray Klippenstein said there was "no chance" of Choc getting a fair trial in Guatemala, citing a United Nations Special Rapporteur that said in February 2009 there is "a general climate of impunity" in the country, with only four out of every 100 crimes ending up before the courts.
Asked to comment on this Vincic said: "Our experience in this case is different from the perspective expressed in your quote. This case is currently before the courts in Guatemala and investigations are ongoing. From the outset, CGN has cooperated fully with the Guatemalan authorities and we intend to continue doing so until the investigations conclude."
"To say that Angelica can participate in the Guatemala case is offering a flimflam excuse, because the Guatemala justice system is so dysfunctional," said Klippenstein, who made headlines last year as one of the lawyers leading a C$45-million class action against the Toronto Police Services Board and the Attorney-General of Canada for the arrest of protestors at the G20 summit in Toronto.
Vincic said: "It should also be noted that Angelica Choc has been participating actively in these court proceedings and investigations in Guatemala."
"The Canadian legal system allows for the creation of artificial foreign-based subsidiaries and traditionally doesn't hold the parent accountable for their actions. That all too easily becomes a strategy for avoiding accountability where the actual control resides with the parent," said Klippenstein.
Human rights group Rights Action claimed earlier this month that Canadian mining companies are not held accountable for their actions in other countries.
Last year, Canadian lawmakers voted against proposed legislation that would block access to government funds for companies found guilty of human rights abuses.
Industry organisations such as the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and the Mining Association of Canada fiercely opposed Bill C-300, which they argued would open the way for parties to make "vexatious" claims against resource companies. The proposed legislation was defeated in a vote of 140 to 134 in the Canadian House of Commons in October.
National Democratic Party Member of Parliament Peter Julian has been trying to muster support for his Bill C-354, based on the US Alien Tort Claims Statute, which would allow foreign citizens to sue Canadian companies for human rights or environmental violations.
The Fenix operation, on care and maintenance since 1980, is the subject of a feasibility study, which HudBay said last year it aimed to publish along with its financial results, scheduled for March 10. HudBay had estimated Fenix, which it acquired with Skye resources in 2008, would cost $1-billion to build. The operation has been on care and maintenance since 2008.
"The updated feasibility study for the Fenix project is substantially complete, and we have not made a decision on when the study will be released publicly," Vincic said on Friday.
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Rights Action asks for financial support to ensure that this case advances in the Canadian courts and that justice is done for the brutal and targeted killing of Adolfo Ich. As this case may take years, both short and long term funding are needed for the family of Adolfo Ich and a local community-based human rights group, for the Klippensteins law firm and for Rights Action. Funding needs for the family and their local Mayan-Qeqchi community development committee are:
Communication (phones, internet): $1,800
2 laptop computers: $1,400
Digital and video cameras: $600
Transportation, in the region, and to and from capital city, for legal case related meetings: $1,200
Local meetings, to keep local Mayan Qeqchi communities informed: $2,400
On-going investigations into the killing of Adolfo Ich and other human rights violations: $2,400
Local publications: $1,800
Stipend for 2 local community leaders to carry on with this case: $4,800
TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS - Make check payable to "Rights Action" and mail to:
CANADA: 552 - 351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8
UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887
CREDIT-CARD DONATIONS: Go to www.rightsaction.org, or directly to: http://rightsaction.org/contributions.htm
DONATION OF STOCK?: Contact Grahame Russell, firstname.lastname@example.org
ANGELICA CHOC'S LEGAL FUND
Donations to Angelica Choc for use in her lawsuit can be made online at: www.chocversushudbay.com; or, by sending a cheque, made out to "Klippensteins in Trust for Angelica Choc", to Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors, Suite 300, 160 John Street, Toronto ON, M5V 2E5.
On February 8, Felix Cuc Xo, a community activist from the settlement of Xya’al K’obe’ in northern Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, was beaten in front of his family and taken away by soldiers and police. He was detained in a private residence that was surrounded by police, and did not resurface. A statement issued by the community noted that local police and jails claimed to know nothing of Cuc Xo’s arrest, but news eventually reached the community that he was being held in prison.
Cuc Xo’s shadowy detention took place under the cover of Alta Verapaz’s martial law, a decree issued by Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom as an anti-narcotics measure on December 19, 2010, and extended for an additional 30 days on January 19. Martial law, declared under a “state of siege” (estado de sitio), is Guatemala’s highest level of alert before a state of war. It has received broad popular support as a response to the Mexican Zeta cartel that uses Alta Verapaz as a staging ground for its Central American operations. Security has been beefed up with 300 soldiers and 500 police in the city of Cobán alone, and officials claim that crime has dropped by 30% since the introduction of martial law.
However, details have begun to emerge that show that these measures have also provided the government with additional impunity in its attempt to quell social movement organizing in the region. Alta Verapaz is a large and predominantly indigenous department in the sparsely populated north–east region of Guatemala. Since efforts to develop the region economically began in the 1960s, the department has seen a boom in activity such as oil drilling, ranching, and agro-fuel production, and it has also become a stronghold of organized campesino and indigenous resistance.
Xya’al K’obe’ and the neighboring community of Se’ Job’ Che’ are two small settlements within Alta Verapaz’s Laguna Lachuá National Park that hold long-standing quarrels with park officials. Having fled their land during the height of the long and bloody Guatemalan armed conflict in the late 1970s, residents of these communities returned to resettle around ten years ago, but found that a national park had been established over their former settlements. Despite being declared illegal invaders by the government, aggression against the communities had been kept at bay and negotiations had been making progress toward resolving the conflicts.
The situations faced by both communities took drastic turns for the worse after the declaration of martial law. On January 10, 40 soldiers, two police officers, and 20 INAB park rangers entered Se’ Job’ Che’ unannounced, firing their weapons into the air. The troops destroyed more than 30 hectares of community corn, beans, and cardamom crops and stole chickens and turkeys. Community member Adelina Yaxcal also claims that a government official accompanying the troops attempted to rape her when he found her hiding among crops. A month later, troops returned and captured Cuc Xo from Xya’al K’obe’.
The Public Order Law outlining states of siege in Guatemala was written in 1965 as a counter-insurgency measure during the early stages of a guerrilla campaign. Under the measure, residents are stripped of the freedom of assembly, soldiers and police are given powers of search and arrest without warrant, and local press coverage of activity by state forces is censored.
Other aspects of the law highlight its political nature, placing the governance of the department in the hands of the Ministry of Defense, banning strikes and protests, and giving the military the power to dissolve any organization within the area under its control. Ramón Cadena, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala, told the Guatemalan press that “this is a counter-insurgency law and it violates international conventions ratified by Guatemala.”
The return of military power alone would cause fear in much of the population of Alta Verapaz, as the department was one of the worst hit by genocidal counter-insurgency campaigns during the 1970s and 80s. A 1978 massacre of more than 100 civilians in the Alta Verapaz town of Panzós marked a turning point in the war as the indiscriminate slaughter that flows from scorched earth tactics gained prominence among the armed forces. Throughout the war, agricultural cooperatives and other rural communities in Alta Verapaz suffered as regular military targets.
In the 15 years since the conflict ended, hundreds of communities in Alta Verapaz have struggled to regain use of, and title to land they fled during the violence, or to reclaim territory lost to large landowners during previous generations. There are currently more than 300 agrarian conflicts in Alta Verapaz, and many of them amount to groups refusing to leave land to which they hold a legitimate claim, as is the case with Se’ Job’ Che’ and Xya’al K’obe’.
Communities engaged in struggles for land already walk a precarious line between negotiation and the willingness of Guatemalan state institutions to clear contested land with military force. Campesinos also face eviction at the hands of large landowners and their private security guards, and violent attacks of this sort also appear to have increased under martial law. Saquimo Setano, a community with a land title that has been contested by a large landowner, was attacked by armed men on January 20. In the neighboring department of Izabal three campesino activists were killed on February 12.
When state forces are involved, normal conditions require authorities to at least present warrants and bring along representatives of the public prosecutor or the human rights ombudsman when removing communities from land conflicts. As the above cases show, however, state forces have begun to abandon even these minimal legal pretexts under martial law.
It is difficult to tell whether Se’ Job’ Che’ and Xya’al K’obe’ are examples of a broader campaign of violent intimidation against organized communities, especially as the Guatemalan press has been restricted in their coverage of the military. The details outlined above were relayed through the National Campesino and Indigenous Coordinator (CONIC), a campesino organization connected to both communities, but with hundreds of groups living similar conflicts across Alta Verapaz it is likely that more military incursions may have gone unnoticed. Monitoring and denunciation is made all the more difficult given the state of siege stipulations against meetings and political organizations.
If the extent of military actions in rural communities is unclear, however, there has been a noticeable lack of success against drug traffickers. Uncovered weapons caches have been displayed with pride, but the few drug-related arrests made under martial law have turned up mostly minor players. During the first month of the measures, just 21 people were captured, and the first arrest of a high-level member of the feared Mexican Zetas wasn’t made until February. All signs point to the continuing power of the narcos when Alta Verapaz returns to civilian control.
Rather than making progress in the war on drugs, martial law in Alta Verapaz has already established its lasting impact as another major step in the country’s long process of remilitarization. Each of Guatemala’s four peacetime presidents has moved to re-assert the role of the armed forces in crime fighting and social control.
Among other significant milestones, the 1996 peace accord measures separating the military from internal policing was discarded in a 1999 referendum; joint military-police crime patrols were initiated in 2001; troops began the regular practice of evicting communities from land conflicts in 2004; and President Colom has recently reopened wartime military bases and begun military operations within national parks. The current state of siege—the first declared since the end of the war in 1996—sets an eerie precedent through direct military control and suspended civil rights.
Since 2008, a number of other Guatemalan departments have been subject to a series of “states of prevention,” emergency measures that are somewhat limited in scope as compared to states of siege, and which operate with a 15-day timeframe, albeit an extendable one. In contrast, the Public Order Law does not provide a time limit for martial law under a state of siege. Tellingly, Presidential Communications Secretary Ronaldo Robles declared early on that the administration will seek to maintain the state of siege for “as long as is necessary in order to regain governability of the department.”
Martial law in Alta Verapaz was almost certainly declared for reasons other than the repression of organized communities. The influence of opposing drug cartels within state institutions, pressure from the United States, and upcoming presidential elections quite likely played a role in taking the Guatemalan war on drugs to a new level. But the temporary measures have also generated an elevated state of impunity, a situation that was supposed to provide cover in the violent arrest of Felix Cuc Xo and the attack on Se’ Job’ Che’. It remains to be discovered just how many more communities and activists have been targeted under martial law, and what political role will be granted to the military in the months and years ahead.
Simon Granovsky-Larsen is a PhD candidate in Political Science at York University, Toronto, who researched land struggles with Guatemalan campesino communities and organizations during 2009-2010.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
CCDA members responded today to a call from the community of El Esfuerzo, San Juan Bautista, Suchitepequez, who were facing an order of eviction from their lands for the second time since November of last year.
Those that now live in El Esfuerzo were legally entitled to the land that they live on in 2001 as members of an association (Asociacion Veracruz) that accessed the land through the Fondo de Tierras (a governmental fund established after the Peace Accords to help campesinos access land to work and live on).
In 2002 the community of El Esfuerzo split from the Asociacion, and the former plantation was divided into two sections, Kabahuil and El Esfuerzo. However, legal title to the land remained in the hands of the Kabahuiles, along with subsidies and resources from the previous farm.
Even without the support of the Asociacion Veracruz, the community of El Esfuerzo has worked hard to subsist on the land, forming a Community Development Council recognized by the Municipality of San Juan Bautista, and a school with two teachers.
Although the Asociacion Veracruz has not cultivated much of their own land, they have made attempts to intimidate and appropriate land from the community of El Esfuerzo, culminating in this last effort at evicting them from their lands with the indirect support of the government Fondo de Tierras.
With the intervention of the CCDA and the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH), the eviction order was suspended, and the same groups have committed to facilitating a dialogue for reconciliation between the communities.
However, questions remain. Why has the Fondo de Tierras labeled the community of El Esfuerzo “invaders” in response to information received solely from the Asociacion Veracruz, and without an official visit or investigation? Why would they support an eviction when they supposedly are against forced evictions?
These and other questions have led CCDA members to presume that the real reason behind the evictions is the community's inability to pay the arrears on the land debt, with the Fondo de Tierras taking advantage of a conflict between campesinos. In that case, why are those who legally carry the debt (Asociacion Veracruz) not being evicted? The CCDA seeks to resolve such confusion and receive clear answers from the Fondo de Tierras.
The point is not to condemn or to villify any one side of a division between small farmers engaged in subsistence lifestyles, but to seek reconciliation between both parties clarification from government, and a just agreement between all involved for the continuation of the community's life and work on the land.
Tomorrow the CCDA will meet again with members of El Esfuerzo to delineate roles and responsibilities in the construction of a process of dialogue, and will push for the Fondo de Tierras to re-evaluate their stance, remove the label of “invaders” from El Esfuerzo, begin the processes of legal recognition of its fifty families, and delineate the land belonging to each community.
Friday, February 4, 2011
From: La Prensa Libre February 4, 2011
Twenty-four year old Victor Aroldo Leiva Borrayo, “The Monkey,” member of the artistic collective, Caja Lúdica (The Tickle Trunk), died yesterday after receiving gunshot wounds to the head.
By CAROLINA GAMAZO Guatemala (Translated by Jackie McVicar)
The attack occurred at 10:30pm on 12 Calle, 4-65 of zone 1, by unknown men who fled the scene.
The wake will be held today and tomorrow he will be buried in the General Cemetery.
"We denounce and condemn this act, we are dismayed; it took us by surprise and it’s painful,” affirmed Samuel Ochoa, member of Caja Lúdica, an artistic organization intended to reconstruct the Guatemalan social fabric through art.
Loving and Playful
"He was a great person, was always a very loving and happy person, outraged by reality, with a great passion to carry out artistic expressions, we remember him as our compañero, happy, full of life and joking,” said Ochoa.
Leiva was known in the Collective as, “The Monkey,” for his acrobatic capacity. He had Garifuna roots as his family was originally from Livingston, Izabal but he had lived his entire life in the capital.
He was founding member of Caja Lúdica, an association that he created together with friends in 2000, with the objective of reconstructing the social fabric through art and culture. “We promote alternatives for youth who, through their creativity with art and culture, stop being victims of the system,” expressed Ochoa.
Leiva used stilts, was a dancer and also participated in art projects in the association.
The investigation is now in the hands of the Public Prosecutor’s office, Ochoa assured, and denied any relationship between Leiva and criminal acts.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
“El Mono” Victor Leiva of Guatemalan youth arts collective Caja Lúdica, killed on the night of February 2, 2011.
The machine persecutes youth: locks them up, tortures them, kills them. They are the living proof of its impotence. It throws them out: it sells them, human flesh, to foreigners.
The sterile machine hates everything that grows and moves. It is only able to multiply jails and cemeteries. It produces nothing but prisoners and cadavers, spies and police, beggars and exiles.
To be young is a crime. Reality commits it every day at the hour of dawn; and also history, which is born anew each day.
This is why reality and history are prohibited.
- Eduardo Galeano, Days and Nights of Love and War
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
We took a look at a man named Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa. Originally from Guatemala,he is accused of participating in the brutal massacre of 252 civilians during Guatemala's civil war in the 1980's.
Today a man named Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa will walk into a courtroom in Calgary. He's originally from Guatemala. He has Canadian and American citizenship. And he is alleged to have participated in the brutal massacre of 252 civilians during Guatemala's civil war in the 1980's. He was arrested last week while he was visiting family in Lethbridge, Alberta. Mr. Sosa lives in California now. But he used to live in Lethbridge. And Alex Del Cid, who owns a Guatemalan restaurant in Lethbridge, remembers him well.
American authorities want Jorge Sosa to be extradited to the United States. They accuse him of lying about his past in his application for U.S. citizenship. Alain Hepner is the lawyer for Mr. Sosa. He was in Calgary.
Guatemala Arrest - Arrest
Aura Elena Farfan is the Executive Director of The Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Guatemala. It's one of the country's oldest human rights groups. She told us about what happened in Dos Erres, Guatemala, on December 7th, 1982. Warning: Some of what she describes is quite graphic.
Kate Doyle is the Director of the Guatemala Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. She was in San Francisco, where she joined us for the show.
Guatemala Arrest - War Crimes
But while the Americans prompted this arrest, Matt Eisenbrandt wants Jorge Sosa to stay in Canada...and face war crimes allegations here. He's the Legal Coordinator for the Canadian Centre for International Justice. And he was in Ottawa.