Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guatemala Las Dos Erres civil war massacre trial begins

Guatemala Las Dos Erres civil war massacre trial begins

From left, in front row, Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin wait in court during their trial in Guatemala City (25 July 2011)The four suspects (front row) deny having been involved in the massacre

BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14285665

Four former Guatemalan soldiers are standing trial for the massacre of more than 220 people during the country's civil war.

The men are accused of being part of a Guatemalan counter-insurgency unit that carried out the massacre in the village of Las Dos Erres in 1982.

All four have denied the charges.

One local human rights group has called the trial "historic", saying it is the first of its kind to involve former soldiers.

The group, CALDH, has said the trial marks "the opening of the historical debate in our country".

At least 200,000 people - mainly from the indigenous Maya population - were killed during the country's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996.

In 1999, a UN-backed commission estimated 93% of the killings were carried out by the security forces, who said they were targeting left-wing guerrillas.

The accused - Carlos Antonio Carias, Manuel Pop, Reyes Collin and Daniel Martinez - were part of the Guatemalan special forces, known as the Kaibiles.

A unit of Kaibiles entered the village of Las Dos Erres in the northern department of Peten in December 1982, during the time of the military ruler, General Efrain Rios Montt.

The military suspected the villagers of supporting or harbouring left-wing guerrillas.

Over a period of three days, the Kaibiles interrogated and then killed the inhabitants, including children, women and the elderly.

Many inhabitants were raped and beaten, before they were shot or bludgeoned to death. The victims' bodies were thrown down a well.

Fight for justice

Estimates vary as to the exact number of villagers killed.

In 2001, then Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo acknowledged that 226 people were killed and that the state bore responsibility for the massacre.

He awarded the relatives of those killed $1.8m (£1.1m) in compensation.

But relatives say the real total of victims is over 250.

They have been fighting for justice for years. The case was first investigated in 1994.

But, until now, no-one has been prosecuted.

The Guatemalan authorities have been under pressure to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations committed during the civil war.

And in 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the state must act in the case of the Las Dos Erres massacre.

Another soldier suspected of involvement in the massacre - Pedro Pimentel Rios - was deported from the United States earlier this month, but has yet to face trial.

Several other suspects are still at large.

Guatemala tries soldiers on massacre charges

Aljazeera English: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2011/07/201172644624981484.html

Four officers accused of killing 201 people in the second massacre trial related to country's 36-year civil war.

[From left to right] Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin have all pleaded not guilty [AFP]

"That day, at 5pm, people arrived to tell me that there had been a problem [in Dos Erres], and since it was not my jurisdiction I couldn't help them," said Carias, who was second lieutenant at the time in command of an area 10km from Dos Erres.

The trial of four former Guatemalan soldiers, charged with taking part in a 1982 massacre of hundreds of civilians during the country's 36-year civil war, has begun in the Guatemalan capital.

The defendents, three of whom had been members of an elite security force known as "kaibiles", pleaded innocent on Monday in a Guatemala City court to killing 201 men, women and children, in the village of Dos Erres.

Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin said they were not in the village and were stationed elsewhere the day it was stormed by government troops who killed at least 250 people in total there, according to court filings.

"I directed them to other villages to seek help."

Raping and killing

During the atrocity, the soldiers allegedly raped and killed women and young girls, among others, and threw the bodies of victims down a well.

Dozens of bodies were exhumed from the well in the 1990s and the remains from 171 victims were recovered in total. At least 67 children under the age of 12 were among the dead.

Prosecutors say soldiers entered Dos Erres in 1982 looking for missing weapons that guerilla groups operating in the region had stolen from the soldiers days earlier.

They did not find the weapons but accused farmers in the village of collaborating with the rebels.

Witnesses say villagers were tortured and robbed by the soldiers as part of a "scorched earth" campaign to eliminate communities supporting opposition groups at the height of Guatemala's longest civil war in history.

'Hungry for meat'

Cesar Ibanez, one of the witnesses, testified in the court proceeding that one soldier had sliced off a piece of flesh from a wounded villager's rib after his superior had told the soldier he was "hungry for meat".

From 1960 to 1996, more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared as a military dictatorship fought to quell a popular uprising across the country, according to UN figures. Entire villages were exterminated in the conflict.

This is Guatemala's second massacre trial related to the civil war.

The first trial ended in a 2004 guilty verdict against an officer and 13 soldiers, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.

Also on Monday, a judge announced that a former National Police official has been accused of carrying out an enforced disappearance during the civil war and was jailed Sunday night.

Former chief of the 6th Commando, Pedro Garcia Arredondo, is accused in the disappearance of Edgar Saenz, Judge Veronica Galicia said.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

THE DEATH OF FACUNDO CABRAL - SHAME?

By Fernando Suazo, Rebelion, voselsoberano.com, July 12, 2011

(Translation for Rights Action by Rosalind Gill, RGill@glendon.yorku.ca)

Once again, Guatemala’s reputation on the world stage has been stained by an abject crime. This time it was Facundo Cabral who fell victim to our long and tragic saga of domestic crime. Cabral, a famous Argentinean citizen of the world – “I am not from here, neither am I from there”, “I have no age, no future” – had been a faithful friend during our uprisings in the seventies.

And while this bloody deed is being investigated, and the media competes to provide us with the latest details on the murder, it is time for us to look into the distance at the dark horizon that caused this murder and so many other crimes in our country.

It has only been two and a half weeks since the International Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy was held. The objective of this conference was to find ways to combat organized crime. During the conference, even the normally submissive presidents of the region spoke to Hilary Clinton in a manner that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, or even a few months ago: The Mexican president dared to say what everyone in that country knows very well, even the birds, that 70% of the vehicles, aircraft, arms and munitions that kill our people are sold in the United States.

The Guatemalan president surprised us by saying that 83% of the drugs that pass through the region are consumed in the United States, and the remaining 17% in Europe. The presidents of Costa Rica and El Salvador stated firmly that drug trafficking would not exist without the enormous demand in the United States. The president of Colombia pointed out that the presence of drug trafficking mortally corrupts a democracy and eliminates many of the best professionals and civil servants in the country (I don’t know if he actually said the ‘mediocre’, which is the majority, that are corrupted by it).

It is clear that the United States must take responsibility for the situation – even Clinton recognized that her country is part of the problem — “We are accelerating our police patrols to find transnational organized crime networks ...” (we assume she meant within her country, but US imperialist diplomacy would, of course, not allow her to say so precisely).

There is no doubt that our region is the most violent part of the continent, and although it has no declared wars, it is one of the most violent areas of the world. According to the UNDP, the homicide rate in Central America is 33.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. Could this have anything to do with our imperialist neighbour to the north?

“Organized crime, basically derived from drug trafficking, is the most serious threat to the Guatemalan State. (…) It has infiltrated it and subordinated it over the last ten years, since Guatemala was convinced by the US to finance Reagan’s anti-communist policy in Central America.” This quote from journalist José Rubén Zamora refers to the eighties and the imperialist National Security Doctrine. (el Periódico, 27/06/11).

In the meantime, Guatemalans are shamed on the international stage because of the tragic death of a visitor from Argentina who sang such meaningful songs as: “My boss, poor guy, thinks I’m the one who’s poor …”

The word shame is on the lips of many people these days. Others, who take a more commercial point of view, point out that this crime will harm our tourist industry. And here we are, vacillating between shame and exposure of the fact that our beauty has been sacked, alienated and corrupted.

But is shame what we are really experiencing? I think it is more indignation or rage that the Guatemalan state has not fulfilled in any way its obligations because it has been taken over by transnational powers.

This is an old story in Guatemala: both inside and outside power groups have forced us into shameful situations that would never have arisen without their influence: When I was teaching our history to high school students, I would tell them of the strong emergence of indigenous communities in the sixties and seventies, when they began to seek development and affirmation as members of this society; I would also introduce the armed conflict and the bloody deeds of civil defence patrols set up by the army. Inevitably, some one would ask the question: “But how could those cruel patrol members be the same people who just a few weeks before had been working in solidarity for the development of their communities?”

Yes indeed, they were the same people. But the counter-insurgency war created life-and- death situations in which, as one of the students remarked – “you either had to go against your own people, or die”.

And from that corruption comes shame, self-denial, guilt and repression of sensitivity to people. Then the ground is prepared for power politics and patronage and for the influence of perverse religious groups. And this is still the case in our Guatemala today.

This is why I say that it is indignation rather than shame that we are experiencing. Rubén Zamora said: “In other words, the basic US strategy to combat drug trafficking by containing and reducing the supply of drugs has been a failure. Drug usage has not declined, drug distribution has increased and diversified and “laundered” money has gone from 2% of the world economy in 1998, according to the IMF, to10% of the world GDP, according to recent estimations. The money has gone from being laundered in remote fiscal paradises to taking its place in New York and London.”

Let other people feel shame – we should be outraged.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Farewell to the Legendary Alfonso Bauer Paiz


The legendary Guatemalan lawyer and political activist, Alfonso Bauer Paiz, passed away at the age of 93 due to heart failure on Sunday, July 10th, 2011. Revered as an exemplary citizen and the last of an outstanding generation, Bauer Paiz held several official posts during the revolutionary governments of the so-called Guatemalan Spring between 1944 and 1954. Exiled for many years after the U.S.-led coup d’état in 1954 turned the country into a violent downward spiral that led to an eventual genocide, Bauer Paiz participated in the Latin American revolutionary processes in Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, and eventually aided Guatemalan refugees in Mexico. Before his burial, the man lovingly known as “Don Ponchito” was paraded for one last time along the streets of Guatemala’s historic center.

To see the complete photoessay by James Rodriguez click here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Outrage over the Murder of Protest Singer Facundo Cabral


Guatemalans from all sectors of society expressed their outrage over the murder of Argentinean protest singer Facundo Cabral. Mr. Cabral was gunned down in Guatemala City on Saturday, July 9th, after performing two concerts in the country. The primary hypothesis claims the assassination was in fact directed at Henry Fariña, Nicaraguan promoter who brought Cabral to Central America. (1) Nevertheless, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and presidential candidate Rigoberta Menchú assures Cabral “was murdered because of his political ideas and powerful music.” (2)

Cllick here to view the entire photo essay by James Rodriguez

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS FILE TORTURE COMPLAINT WITH UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR AGAINST GUATEMALAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE GENERAL OTTO PEREZ MOLINA

Today, June 28, 20011, three human rights defenders presented a formal report of torture, or “Allegation Letter”, to Professor Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. The letter alleges that General Otto Perez Molina, now a leading presidential candidate in Guatemala, was directly involved in the systematic use of torture and acts of genocide during the long civil war in Guatemala. Specifically, he was on the ground and in command in the Ixil triangle in 1982 during the village by village massacre campaign, and he was directly responsible for the long term torture and disappearance of prisoner of war Efrain Bamaca Velasquez. Protesters in Washington D.C. recently demanded the cancelation of his visa to the United States.

The report is accompanied by 1982 film footage[1] showing the then- Major Perez Molina being interviewed by journalist Allan Nairn in the Ixil triangle. The battered bodies of several prisoners lie nearby on the ground. Although Perez Molina was using a different name, he is identifiable by his voice and features. He is also well remembered in the Ixil . The video may be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/verify_age?next_url=http%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DIEN9OBmLdcE. According to the U.N. sponsored Truth Commission report, “Memoria de Silencio”, the army carried out daily acts of torture, genocide and terror in the Ixil region, and razed between 70 and 90% of the villages there. Perez Molina currently presents himself as a reformist and “peace candidate for peace”.

Otto Perez Molina was also the National Director of military intelligence (D-2) on March 12, 1992, when Efrain Bamaca, a Mayan resistance leader, was captured alive and taken to the Santa Ana Berlin military base. According to evidence cited in the Allegation Letter, a high level intelligence meeting was held at the same base that day, and the officers decided to subject Bamaca to a secret intelligence program for valuable prisoners of war. This consisted of long term torture in order to break the prisoner psychologically and force him or her to collaborate with the D-2 forces. Bamaca was severely tortured for more than 2 years: always in D-2 compounds, under orders of the D-2, and by D-2 specialists. He was also transported throughout the country by the D-2, and twice detained by a secret D-2 death squad based in the Capital at the notorious “La Isla”. The letter alleges that Perez Molina was the key intellectual author of this and similar war crimes cases. U.S. declassified documents confirm that the D-2 systematically tortured all prisoners of war, then either executed them or forced them to collaborate. In 1993 the CIA reported 300 such prisoners . See attached memorandum re Bamaca case.

The Allegation Letter requests an investigation into General Perez Molina’s responsibility for such war crimes, and was presented by the following human rights defenders: Annie Bird, Co- Director, Rights Action, annie@rightsaction.org 202-680-3002, Jennifer K. Harbury, Human Rights Attorney, jharbury@gmail.com 512-751-5852Kelsey A. Jones, Director, Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA, kajones@ghrc-usa.org 202-529-6599

HONDURAS - COMMUNITY LEADERS ARRESTED ON TRUMPED UP CHARGES, FOR PROTECTING FORESTS FROM ILLEGAL LOGGERS LINKED TO GOLDCORP Inc.

HONDURAS - COMMUNITY LEADERS ARRESTED ON TRUMPED UP CHARGES, FOR PROTECTING FORESTS FROM ILLEGAL LOGGERS LINKED TO GOLDCORP Inc.

(By Annie Bird, Rights Action July 5, 2011)

Early this morning, July 5, Carlos Amador, a local teacher who holds the position of Secretary of the Valle de Siria Environmental Committee, and Marlon Hernandez, a teacher who holds the position of President of the Community Committee of El Terrero were arrested as they walked to work.

(Since 2004, Rights Action has supported and worked with the Valle de Siria Environmental Committee)

A total of eighteen arrest warrants have been issued against community human rights defenders and environmentalists from the Valle de Siria Environmental Committee and the Community Committee of El Terrero, apparently in the interest of facilitating access to gold deposits for the Goldcorp Inc gold mining company.

ABUSE OF THE LEGAL SYSTEM AS A TOOL OF REPRESSION

The community leaders have been charged with Obstruction of a Management Plan by judge Ingrid Quiroz in the Talanga Court. They were given conditional release until their trial scheduled to begin August 2.

The President and a Representative of the Valle de Siria Environmental Committee, Martin Erato and Marco Tulio Martinez, also are subject to arrest warrants, as are most members of the Community Committee (Patronato) of El Terrero.

During the day, members of the communities affected by Goldcorp Inc's concession poured into Talanga in a show of support, including six more Community Committee members with arrest warrants who voluntarily presented themselves before the judge.

CRIMINALIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

This process is clearly a case of criminalization of human rights defenders, yet another example of how the Honduran justice system is engaged in flagrant violations of fundamental rights and due process.

The Public Prosecutor requested the arrest without having first undertaken sufficient investigation into the land rights of the two groups in conflict. Today leaders of the five communities affected are presenting fraud charges against the family who created a false title to the land in conflict.

PROTECTING DRINKING WATER FOR 20,000 PEOPLE

The arrests stem from a conflict over a forested mountain known as Cerro La Terracita in the municipality of El Porvenir, department of Francisco Morazan, Honduras, an area communally owned for 250 years.

(Goldcorp Inc began operating its "San Martin" in the neighboring municipality. Goldcorp has a concession, illegally gotten according to many Honduras, to mine in El Porvenir as well, but never were able to operate their mine there due to the peaceful opposition of the local population).

On April 7, 2010, lumberers attempted to enter the communal forests, and were blocked by area residents who hold title over the land. Approximately 800 hectares of forests protect the spring that is the source of drinking water for between 15,000 and 20,000 people, inhabitants of the villages of Pueblo Nuevo, Guayovillas, Pedronal, Terrero, and Escanito. For many years the communities have been requesting that the Institute for Environmental Conservation declare the area a protected area.

The mountain forms part of a 1,870 hectare communal land title pertaining to the villages, a title that dates back to the early 1800s. However, since the Canadian gold company Goldcorp obtained its concession to the subsoil mineral rights in the mountain, residents of El Porvenir report that Goldcorp developed close ties to a family originally from the villages, the Raudales Urrutia family, who have for many years lived in Tegucigalpa and the town center of El Porvenir.

According to reports, approximately three years ago the Raudales Urrtia family, through fraudulent processes, obtained an illegitimate title over the land and obtained a permit for a management plan from the Institute for Forestry Development. Area residents report that the intention of the permit is to clear cut the forest. This would then facilitate exploitation later by Goldcorp since environmental permits would be easier to obtain for the already deforested mountain.

GOLDCORP LINKED TO PRIVATELY ARMED GROUP AND POLICE REPRESSION

Since the Raudales Urrtia family began asserting ownership over the communal lands, they have maintained a private security force of six or seven heavily armed guards in the town of El Porvenir, who enter the villages heavily armed in vehicles with the obvious intention of intimidating and terrifying the population to facilitate appropriation of the lands.

On April 13, 2010, 15 heavily armed police arrived at the middle school where Carlos Amador, a teacher and 7-year member of the Valle de Siria Environmental Committee, works. They approached the school with guns raised in attack position. When they were unable to find Carlos, the police next went to his house which they also approached with raised guns and interrogated his two minor daughters as to his whereabouts, and left a citation to appear before police investigators.

Carlos Amador responded to the citation, but instead of asking questions related to the conflict over the La Terracita forest, the district attorney questioned him about the work of the Environmental Committee, asking questions like, "who are the leaders of the committee", "where do they live", "when does the committee meet", etc.

The conflict in La Terracita began shortly after Goldcorp's March 18, 2010 announcement to the press that its mine Closure Plan had been approved. Goldcorp, having completed exploitation of their first tract, the Palo Alto y Tajo la Rosa concessions, is anxious to begin exploitation of neighboring concessions, such La Terracita.

On request, Rights Action can provide substantial documentation and film links of serious health and environmental harms caused by Goldcorp's open-pit, cyanide heap leach mine.

GOLDCORP IMPUNITY HAD BEEN CHALLANGED BY PRESIDENT ZELAYA'S GOVERNMENT

The controversial closure plan was rejected by neighbors as it did not take adequate measures to clean up the heavy metals, such as cyanide, arsenic and mercury, among others, which have been demonstrated to exceed internationally established standards in Valle de Siria water system, and in the bodies of the residents.

The Closure Plan had not been accepted by the administration of then President Manuel Zelaya, which in April of 2009 created an inter-institutional commission to examine the plan and the impact of Goldcorp's operations in the region.

This measure followed a moratorium that banned the exploitation of mining concessions using certain techniques, such as those employed by Goldcorp, that the Zelaya administration enacted through a presidential decree in 2007.

Challenged by mining companies, in a 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court supported the Presidential Decree, finding sections of the 1998 General Mining Law, approved in the havoc following Hurricane Mitch, to be unconstitutional. This highly unpopular law had ushered in a fire sale of mining concessions in the late 1990s, early 2000s.

A new and fair mining law is seriously needed to define the all the procedures and guidelines that mining companies must follow if they want to exploit concessions they hold.

On April 27, 2009 President Manuel Zelaya proposed a mining law that banned open pit mining and the use of certain heavy metals, such as cyanide, in the refining process. This law would have made impossible expansion plans by mining companies, such as Goldcorp.

... AND THEN THE MILITARY COUP OCCURRED

All discussions of the type of fair-minded mining law reforms that were needed came to a crashing halt, the day after the June 28, 2009 military coup ousted President Zelaya's government.

Though many expected the military backed coup regime to pass their own version of a new mining law - one that would be expected to greatly favour international companies and investors, to date this has not happened. It is possible that the interests that back a new mining law may be waiting for the ratification of the Canada - Honduras free trade agreement, expected to be enacted any day.

ABUSE OF THE LEGAL SYSTEM FOR THE WEALTHY AND POWERFUL / IMPUNITY FOR THE POOR AND DISPOSSESSED

Ever since Goldcorp acquired its 'concession', and particularly since it began mining operations in 2000, and health and environmental harms began to be documented, a myriad of legal actions have been presented against mining interests in Honduras, yet virtually only the constitutional challenge has been ruled upon.

The Environmental Committee alone has advanced at least 25 legal actions related to Goldcorp's operation.

In 2000, criminal contamination charges resulted in arrest warrants against a Canadian Simon Ridgeway, legal representative for Entre Mares, the local company that owns the San Martin mine, a company now subsidiary to Goldcorp. The arrest warrant was never carried out, and in a similar way the investigation or prosecution of many other charges has never advanced.

CONDITIONAL RELEASE

Carlos Amador and Marlon Hernandez are thankfully released. This is due in no small part to a huge national and international response to these illegal detentions.

However, the trumped up charges are pending against them, and 16 other local community members.

Stay tuned, Keep educated, Stay involved.

Thank-you / Gracias a la vida

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WHAT TO DO:



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SPEAKERS:

Contact us to plan educational presentations in your community, school, place of worship, home (info@rightsaction.org)

EDUCATIONAL DELEGATIONS TO CENTRAL AMERICA:

Form your own group and/ or join one of our educational delegation-seminars to learn first hand about community development, human rights and environmental struggles (info@rightsaction.org)

CREATE YOUR OWN

email and mail lists and re-distribute our information

RECOMMENDED DAILY NEWS:

www.democracynow.org / www.upsidedownworld.org / www.dominionpaper.ca

RECOMMENDED BOOKS:

Eduardo Galeano's "Open Veins of Latin America"; Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States"; James Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Told Me"; Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine"; Paolo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed"; Dr Seuss's "Horton Hears A Who"



FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Annie Bird, annie@rightsaction.org, Grahame Russell, info@rightsaction.org, Karen Spring, spring.kj@gmail.com