Honduras: 15 women murdered in first two weeks of 2020
From Democracy Now, 15 January 2020
In Honduras a new report by the Violence Observatory at the
Honduran National Autonomous University says that at least 15 women have been
murdered in the first 14 days of this year. Violence against women, LGBTQ
people, indigenous leaders and environmental activists has skyrocketed in
Honduras under the US-backed government of President Juan Orlando Hernández. Honduran
media reports that another migrant caravan has congregated in San Pedro Sula
and is preparing to head northwards, as violence and poverty continue to push
Hondurans to flee the country.
El Salvador: 17 assassinations in one weekend
From a report by Beatriz Calderón in La Prensa Gráfica, 15 January 2020
After a period of relatively low homicide numbers which has marked the early part of Nayib Bukele’s presidency, the director of the National Civil Police (PNC) Mauricio Arriaza Chicas described the weekend of the 11th and 12th January as ‘atypical’ and very different from the the average figure of 2.7 assassinations that the government announced during the previous week. Six people were assassinated on the Saturday and another eleven on the Sunday. Monday 13th also turned out to be a murderous day with another six assassinations. In total 56 people were assassinated during the first 15 days of January. Moreover another 65 – 70 people have disappeared in that same time period, although Arriaza Chicas suggested that these were accounted for either by them having lost their phones or having gone away with their partners.
Arriaza Chicas also gave the comparative figures for 2018 and 2019: 2019 – 2,383 assassinations.
A summary by Martin Mowforth – see sources below.
On 14th January  Alejandro Giammattei took over as President of Guatemala from Jimmy Morales.
Guatemalan civil society groups pressured authorities to arrest President Jimmy Morales for corruption during the few hours of the 14th January between the handover to the new President and the swearing in of Morales as a representative on the Central American Parliament (Parlacen). During those few hours his immunity from prosecution lapsed and only during that time could he be arrested.
Morales and more than a dozen outgoing congressional representatives face allegations of corruption and other crimes. Unlike most previous presidents, Morales was keen to join Parlacen in order to retain his immunity from prosecution. The timetable for the swearing in to Parlacen was suddenly advanced in order to limit the time available to bring about any such arrest or prosecution.
Most of the investigations into political corruption were initiated by the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). CICIG was formed in 2007 and exposed networks of corruption that had been entrenched in state institutions. CICIG investigations led to the resignation and arrest in 2015 of then-President Otto Pérez Molina and many in his administration. With the campaign slogan ‘neither a thief nor corrupt’ Morales won the election just weeks later, but he turned against CICIG after he, his relatives and his party were named in connection with investigations in 2017. In 2018 he refused to renew CICIG’s mandate and later barred CICIG’s head commissioner Iván Velasquez from the country.
President Giammattei represents the extreme right wing of politics and was backed by a group of hard-line former military officers who opposed the peace process which brought an end to Guatemala’s 36 year war. Amongst other things, he has no intention of bringing CICIG back but has vowed to bring back the death penalty. His only other experience of public political service was as Director of the Penitentiary System during which time he was denounced by human rights organisations for the high number of extrajudicial executions of prisoners.
Giammattei has promised to promote the extractive industries which, as experience shows us, cause forced displacement of rural and indigenous populations. He is also linked to the Foundation Against Terrorism which uses malicious prosecution to prevent defenders of human rights, land rights and environmental rights from pursuing investigations into, denunciations of and prosecutions of those who abuse these rights.
Under the heading ‘President Alejandro Giammattei appears to be a new face backed by the same old criminal networks’, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) has produced an in-depth analysis of human rights concerns regarding Giammattei’s forthcoming presidency. A pdf of this analysis can be found here: [pdf version here].
Rights Action, 14 January 2020, ‘Changing of military-backed regimes in Guatemala’. This includes an article by Sandra Cuffe, ‘Guatemalans demand arrest of outgoing president for corruption’. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/guatemalans-demand-arrest-outgoing-president-corruption-200114001457754.html
Telesur, 14 January 2020, ‘Guatemala: Giammattei takes office in a poor, insecure country’.
GHRC, 15 January 2020, ‘No relief in sight: President Alejandro Giammattei appears to be a new face backed by the same old criminal networks’. www.ghrc-usa.org
In December 2018, Honduran human rights worker Dina Meza visited London. Because of the danger of her work in Honduras, she is accompanied there by Peace Brigades International (PBI). Both Dina and PBI feature several times in ‘The Violence of Development’ website, for which she was interviewed in 2017 – see https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/dina-meza/
The following report by PBI explains her presence in London.
In December 2018 Dina Meza, a celebrated Honduran independent journalist, was invited to the UK to speak at the FCO’s Human Rights Day event. During her time in London Dina Meza met with the Minister for Human Rights; Lord Ahmad, All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights, as well as representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss the human rights situation in Honduras as well as restrictions on freedom of expression and attacks against journalists in the country. She also met with NGOs and donors.
“We are joined by Dina Meza. She is a journalist in Honduras who is working to defend freedom of expression and information. And in case Dina, and after meeting her this morning, I would add this, a modest lady, and if she fails to tell you this herself is that she was named by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders of 2018. Why? Because of her work in this sphere. Thank you Dina for being here.” – Lord Ahmad
Committed to defending freedom of expression and information, Dina has spent years investigating and reporting on human rights violations across the country. She is currently the Director of ASOPODEHU and the President of PEN Honduras, an organisation that supports journalists at risk. She is also the founder and editor of the online newspaper ‘Pasos de Animal Grande’, which provides information and legal support to at-risk professionals, students and journalists.
In April 2018 Fortune magazine selected her as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders of 2018, highlighting her key role in bringing international attention to the assassination of activist Berta Cáceres, as well as the state violence surrounding Honduras’ volatile 2017 elections.
Dina works at incredible personal risk and has previously had to flee Honduras for her own safety. Due to the threats she faces she receives protective accompaniment from Peace Brigades International.
1b Waterlow Road
London, N19 5NJ
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)20 7281 5370
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If you read the following litany of crimes, abuses, death squad activities and much more, you won’t be surprised to hear that Guatemala’s human rights community is concerned about the country’s future under the presidency of Alejandro Giammattei. The following report by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) reads like a political corruption and organised crime novel, but this one is based on real life in Guatemala. I am grateful to the GHRC for permission to reproduce their report here and in particular to GHRC Director Annie Bird who wrote the introductory letter which accompanies the report.
I suppose that it shouldn’t really be a surprise given that gangsters and gangsterism now dominate the politics of the western world.
Yesterday, January 14, Alejandro Giammattei assumed the presidency of Guatemala. Guatemala’s human rights community is concerned. Here are key points to keep in mind.
- Four trials in Guatemala, Switzerland and Spain have demonstrated that police death squads killed inmates during Giammattei’s term as National Prisons Director – his only previous experience in public office. Other convictions show the same death squads were involved in violent disputes between drug traffickers, indicating the prison killings could be attributed to similar motives. While his direct participation has not been proven, this is a concerning precedent to what could happen under his watch as president. Related trials are ongoing, though prosecutors and judges are under attack.
- Giammattei has promised to expand and promote extractive industries that displace the livelihood and provoke forced displacement of rural and indigenous communities.
- At least two key cabinet appointments are active members of the Foundation Against Terrorism, which uses malicious prosecution to promote impunity for human rights abuses. On the day of the inauguration, Daniel Pascual, Coordinator of the Campesino Unity Committee, began trial on slander charges – a violation of freedom of speech, this process places the defender in danger, and is marred by procedural anomalies.
- Giammattei has promised to dissolve the Presidential Security Secretariat (SAAS), a civilian security agency created to comply with the peace accords, and instead has focused on strengthening the National Security Council. He has promised to appoint retired military officers active during Guatemala’s genocide to almost all key security positions.
- Students protesting the inauguration were illegally detained and apparently beaten. A judge ordered their release this morning and an investigation into police aggressions.
Below please find an in depth analysis of human rights concerns surrounding Giammattei’s inauguration [pdf version here]. Also please see GHRC’s analysis of the August 11, 2019 run off elections [pdf version here], the June 16 general elections [pdf version here], and the Constitutional Court decisions to bar candidates Zury Rios and Themla Aldana [pdf version here].
No Relief in Sight:
President Alejandro Giamattei appears to be a new face backed by the same old criminal networks
January 15, 2020
President-elect Alejandro Giammattei took office yesterday in Guatemala City. He was never expected to win. After three unsuccessful presidential bids, Giammattei made the runoff Presidential election in August by just one percentage point and only after three candidates had been eliminated through legal actions. His only experience in public office was a 2004-2008 stint as National Prisons Director. In 2010, he was charged with the extrajudicial execution of seven inmates under his watch. Though others indicted on related charges were convicted, charges against Giammattei were eventually dismissed by a judge who was later sanctioned as a result of unrelated corruption charges.
Giammattei comes to the presidency backed by a group of hard-line former military officers reportedly associated with the sector that opposed the peace process that ended Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. Many are also associated with industries that extract resources from rural communities – often with US, Canadian and European investment – a sector Giammattei has pledged to promote. Some are active members of organisations that have promoted dozens of malicious lawsuits intended to stop the work of public prosecutors, judges, experts, and human rights defenders who contribute to ending impunity for corruption, ongoing human rights abuses, and crimes against humanity carried out during Guatemala’s civil war.
Giammattei won 13.9% of the votes in the June 16, 2019 general election, taking second place to former first lady Sandra Torres’ 25.53%. He came in just 2.5% ahead of Thelma Cabrera – the highest polling indigenous presidential candidate ever, who reported very serious problems during her campaign, including murders of party leadership – and just 1% ahead of a career diplomat. Giammattei then won the August 11th run-off with just under 58% of votes.
The same day, Giammattei announced most of the members of his cabinet, but didn’t divulge the names of key security appointments. Then, during an October 25 regional security conference in El Salvador, retired Air Force General Roy Dedet announced who would be appointed Secretary of Defense, Interior Minister, and the National Security Council. Though Giammattei confirmed the announcement days later, the fact that such an important announcement was made while Giammattei was visiting Taiwan left Guatemalan news analysts speculating that Dedet was the power behind the presidency.
What Peace Accords?
A key player in Giammattei’s campaign, Dedet announced that he would become Giammattei’s National Security Advisor, and that he was in charge of the presidential transition. He attributed authorship of the new administration’s security strategy to former General Gustavo Adolfo Díaz López, best known for leading a failed coup in 1988 of hard-line officers opposed to the peace process, the ‘Mountain Officers’. Guatemalan press reported that, when asked if the appointment of former military officers to public security positions was a violation of the 1996 Peace Accords, Giammattei replied, “What peace accords? The peace accords have been violated.”
The war has not ended for networks of military officers active during the genocide. Not only do they undermine democracy in order to maintain impunity for the most heinous crimes against humanity imaginable, but they continue to exploit the spoils of war, concessions to water and mineral rights, and land titles obtained through corruption and violence. Thousands of residents of rural communities seeking respect for their land and resource rights are targeted by false prosecutions that violate their fundamental rights, while political opposition has been targeted in killings bearing the hallmarks of death squad operations.
On January 6, an umbrella organisation of associations of former military officers actively working to achieve impunity for appalling crimes made a statement denouncing the date as the four year anniversary of the “cowardly” arrest of 18 military officers on crimes against humanity charges related to the CREOMPAZ and Molina Theissen cases. The organisation voiced support for Giammattei, and echoed his assessment that the peace “agreements have been violated” but went on to elaborate, “by terrorist criminals and that have served as a political, ideological flag for the perverse persecution against the military, military commissioners and civil self-defense patrollers.”
The expected National Security Council appointments include former military officers with terrible human rights records and credible allegations of close relationships with members of organised crime networks. The proposed Interior Minister, charged with overseeing law enforcement, is former general Edgar Godoy Samayoa. Press reports he has been a close associate of one of the most notorious organised crime figures in Guatemala, Luis Francisco Ortega Menaldo – during the campaign, Giammattei used a helicopter registered to a company owned by Ortega Menaldo. The anticipated Vice Minister of Security Elmer Anibal Aguilar Moreno has been criticised in the press for his close relationship to members of the Zeta crime syndicate.
Dedet himself was named during the trial of three military officers convicted of Bishop Juan José Gerardi’s 1998 murder. Bishop Gerardi was killed following the publication of the Catholic Church’s truth commission that reported atrocities committed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. A witness testified that Dedet, a member of then President Álvaro Arzú’s Presidential Guard (Estado Mayor Presidential – EMP), coordinated protection for Captain Byrón Lima Oliva, convicted of the murder in 2001 alongside his father Coronel Byrón Lima Estrada and intelligence Sargent Obdulio Villanueva. All three convicted murderers were fellow members of Arzú’s EMP. Byrón Lima grew to influence significant control of the prisons through corruption networks. In October 2017 prosecutors requested removal of former president Arzú’s immunity so he could face corruption charges for facilitating ‘phantom salaries’ from Guatemala City’s municipal budget to imprisoned Byrón Lima Oliva and Obdulio Villanueva’s widow; Villanueva was beheaded in jail in 2003. The request was initially denied. Arzú died before the prosecutor’s appeal was reviewed.
The EMP was a military institution responsible for protecting the president. Considered the power behind the presidents, in compliance with the 1996 peace accords, the EMP was closed, replaced by the SAAS in 2003. In 2008 the National Security Council (CNS) was created. Comprised of top-level security related presidential appointees, it assumed many of the functions of the defunct EMP. The CNS maintained a low profile, but gained visibility on September 4, 2018 when the administration of President Jimmy Morales announced the CNS had barred Iván Velasquez – then Commissioner in charge of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) – entry into Guatemala, a move the Constitutional Court ruled illegal. In December Giammattei announced his intention to close the SAAS.
Giammattei’s appointees promote impunity, weaken the justice system
Guatemalan press also reports that Dedet and Godoy are both active members of the Foundation Against Terrorism, an organisation which has used its influence within the judiciary to promote malicious, false prosecutions of human rights defenders – and even internationally acclaimed public servants such as prosecutors with the Office of Special Prosecutor for Human Rights. Many defenders have spent years in preventive detention or have pending arrest warrants, illegal reprisals for their efforts to use the justice system to prosecute human rights abuses.
Just yesterday, the day of the inauguration, the trial began of internationally renowned land rights defender Daniel Pascual on slander charges promoted by the Foundation, a case which the International Federation for Human Rights has called an infringement on freedom of expression that places the human rights defenders at risk, noting procedural anomalies in the process. The charges against Pascual stem from a press conference following a January 2013 violent attack against him in which Pascual cited incendiary publications by the president of the Foundation Against Terrorism as contributing to the attack.
In another prominent case, the chief prosecutor in charge of Guatemala’s internationally renowned Human Rights Prosecutors Office, Orlando López was removed from his position, arrested and held in prison after the Foundation Against Terrorism formally joined in the prosecution of a traffic accident. The Foundation’s participation in the case is illegal as it bears no relevance to its mandate.
After the Foundation’s involvement, the treatment of the case showed irregularities. López led the January 6, 2016 arrest and prosecution of 18 former military officers on charges of crimes against humanity, and also led the prosecution of Efraín Ríos Montt on genocide charges. López had been subjected to many previous attempts of malicious prosecution by the Foundation; his colleague, the Chief of the Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI), CICIG’s national counterpart, has been subject to approximately 80 complaints, as have many of their colleagues, judges, forensic experts and human rights defenders. López’s case is expected to go to trial early this year.
Reorganisation and weakening of State agencies that protect human rights and combat impunity is another tactic that has been aggressively pursued by the administration of outgoing president Jimmy Morales and it is feared that Giammattei will continue along this path. The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights is being divided into three smaller prosecutors’ offices, a measure that could weaken the office. This office has been key not only to prosecution of crimes against humanity, but also resolving malicious prosecution of rights defenders. Other key institutions targeted include the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the office of Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) Jordán Rodas, the Secretariat of Peace charged with implementing the 1996 peace accords, and the Peace Archives from the former police headquarters.
In the most notorious institutional change, the Morales administration ended CICIG’s mandate on September 3, 2019, after attempting an illegal, summary closure. While FECI is expected to continue prosecutions started under CICIG, it is greatly weakened without the presence of CICIG. Many important cases are currently being prosecuted by FECI, including one that involves Giammattei.
Four trials in three countries show extrajudicial killings happened under Giammattei
In one of CICIG’s first prosecutions, on August 9, 2010 an arrest warrant was issued against Giammattei on charges of extrajudicial execution related to violent deaths in the Pavón prison on September 25, 2006 while he was the National Director of the Penitentiary System. His then assistant and three police officers were arrested that day, but Giammattei, apparently alerted, had requested political asylum days before in Honduras’ embassy in Guatemala. His request was denied, so on August 13, 2010 he was taken into detention on the Mariscal Závala military base.
Giammattei was held until May 11, 2011 when judge Carol Patricia Flores dismissed charges against him and the four others in the same indictment, citing a lack of evidence. Two of the three police officers were later convicted on related charges. Just a few months later, Judge Flores lost, but later recovered on appeal, immunity from prosecution on charges of money laundering, illegal enrichment and breach of duty in an unrelated case but was sanctioned.
In the same case arrest warrants were issued for National Police Director Erwin Sperinsen who fled to Switzerland, then Interior Minister Carlos Vielman fled to Spain, and the former Deputy Director of the National Police, Javier Figueroa, fled to Austria. All requested political asylum. Each country refused extradition, but instead conducted trials in Switzerland, Austria and Spain.
Former National Police Director Erwin Sperinson was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in Swiss prison for his role in the September 2006 murder of seven inmates. Vielman and Figueroa were acquitted in Spain and Austria respectively. Observers note that Swiss prosecutors conducted the most thorough investigation, whereas Austrian and Spanish prosecutors did not travel to Guatemala. The Spanish court found that extrajudicial executions had occurred in Pavón but Vielman’s involvement was not proven. Four police officers were convicted for those killings in Guatemala on August 8, 2013, including Police Director, Victor Hugo Soto Dieguez.
Vielman returned to Guatemala in April 2017. On October 29, 2018 he was arrested and charged in the murders of two escapees and one bystander, and the torture of two escapees, all distinct cases from those tried in Spain, but connected to the same death squads. Judge Claudette Dominguez charged Vielman in the torture case but not the murders, granting him conditional release on bail. That case is pending trial, prosecuted by FECI. Judge Dominguez’s independence has been questioned in other high-profile human rights cases. Most recently her ruling to dismiss charges of mass rape by civil patrollers against indigenous Achi Maya women during the civil war was overturned on appeal by the victims.
Death Squads Connect Politicians and Drug Traffickers
The Pavón Case was just one in a series of killings that prosecutors attribute to death squads operating with the knowledge of top-level government security appointees between 2005 and 2007. Evidence suggested specific inmates were targeted, that killings were not the result of excessive force during clashes. Subsequent killings by the same death squads suggest the motives may have been disputes between drug networks; they happened as the Zetas moved into Guatemala; control of prisons is critical to drug networks.
The death squads were led by Victor Soto Dieguez, convicted in the Pavón case, and also allegedly by Victor Rivera, a Venezuelan security advisor to Interior Minister Vielman who first came to Central America to collaborate with the CIA in the Contra supply operation. Rivera and Soto allegedly played a role in the February 20, 2007 murder of three Salvadoran representatives to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), and their driver. Guatemalan congressman Manuel de Jesús Castillo Medrano was convicted of the murders in 2010. An arrest warrant is pending for former Salvadoran congressman, Roberto Silva, who allegedly ordered the killings. Four police officers associated with Rivera and Soto were arrested as material authors in the case in 2007, but they were murdered in preventative detention just three days after their arrest.
Manuel Castillo was murdered in prison this past December 16, 2019. Roberto Silva, his alleged accomplice, was deported to El Salvador from the United States on January 8, 2020 after fighting deportation since 2007. He faces corruption and money laundering charges in El Salvador, and the PARLACEN murder charges in Guatemala. On January 13, 2020, Giammattei claimed he had learned of a plan to assassinate him during yesterday’s inauguration, a scheme he related to Castillo’s murder.
While Giammattei’s direct involvement in extrajudicial executions during his term as National Prison Director was never proven, it has been proven in courts in Switzerland, Spain and Guatemala that death squads killed inmates under his watch. The appointments he has announced for key security positions, men who justify the most extreme degradation of human life, give rise to serious concern that more atrocities could happen during his term as president.
Gang culture in El Salvador
By Martin Mowforth
In April this year (2019), it was reported in El Salvador that municipal employees who provide local services such as rubbish collection in the town of Apopa had stopped work because of threats from local gang members.
The threats began with two gang members who threatened the fee collectors from the almost 2,500 market stall holders, from which the municipality gains between $1,200 and $1,500 each week. Threats were later extended to burial services at the local cemetery where work also stopped meaning that three families had to bury their relatives in other municipalities. Also affected were rubbish collection services and one crucial bus service.
Local mayor, Santiago Zelaya, organised a group of volunteers to collect the rubbish with accompaniment by the National Civil Police. Initially only three police patrols were granted and other services could not be guaranteed by police protection. Mayor Zelaya said, “In view of this situation with reduced municipal ability, we request that the security forces support the progress and development that the municipality has made.”
It is believed that the gangs became short of money following the holiday period (December – February) and that the threats stemmed from their need to raise funds. Four gangs operate in Apopa (only 20 km from the capital San Salvador) where schoolchildren and students, as well as businesses, have to be extremely wary as they travel to and from their studies on account of the danger of approaches by gang members.
The Barrio 18 gang is thought to be responsible for the threats. The gang had an agreement with the previous mayor who is now languishing in jail along with several gang members.
Between the 1st January this year and the 25th February, fifteen assassinations were committed in Apopa, the same number as were committed during the whole of 2018.
On 30th January this year I participated in a visit to the Comunidad Romero, close to the town of Apopa. The visit was organised by the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS, Centre for Exchange and Solidarity), and our group discussed the problems of living there with a group of impressive young people who spend much of their time trying to avoid being approached and hassled by gang members. There is little work available and so young people who do not make the grade in school generally hang around on the streets where they are highly vulnerable to approaches by gang members.
The main street in Distrito Italia where the community is located, is run by the Barrio 18 gang on one side and by the Mara Salvatrucha on the other. Young people on their way to school or to get the bus to go into Apopa or San Salvador are particularly vulnerable to these approaches, and so many of the young people from Comunidad Romero have to go the long way round to avoid such contact.
Given the lack of employment opportunities and the lack of alternative forms of development, it is unsurprising that so many young adults join the migrant caravans in search of a future.
- La Prensa Gráfica, 14 April 2019, ‘Amenaza de pandilla en Apopa limita servicios municipales’ / ‘Gang threats in Apopa restrict municipal services’.
- Daniel Torres (El Salvador Day), 14 April 2019, ‘Pandilleros no permiten que se recoja basura en Apopa’ / ‘Gang members stop waste collection in Apopa’.
- Personal notes by Martin Mowforth from visit to Comunidad Romero, 30 January 2019.
The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC) was founded in 1982 at the height of the 36 year long Guatemalan war. The Commission documents and monitors human rights violations and attempts to defend those whose human rights are under threat. It also carries out advocacy work on behalf of rights defenders and lobbies for policy change both in Guatemala and the USA. To find out more about the work of the GHRC, go to: http://www.ghrc-usa.org/
The GHRC report is entered into the TVOD website in Chapter 9 under the sub-heading of ‘Emergency in Guatemala’. This sub-heading refers to the emergency experienced in Guatemala during 2009 when work on the writing of ‘The Violence of Development’ book began. The fact that this present GHRC report was produced in 2018/2019 exposes the fact that Guatemala is in a constant state of emergency and the Guatemalan oligarchy and elite – in the words of the report – “remain strong and poised to keep power at any cost.”
GHRC 2018 Emergency Delegation
Delegation Observes Violent Targeting of Land Rights Defenders
From July 12-16, 2018, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC/USA) coordinated an emergency delegation to Guatemala after the international community was alerted to intensified violence and a series of murders targeted at human rights activists and Indigenous land defenders. The delegation, made up of human rights and justice advocates from the USA, Canada and Guatemala, travelled to the eastern and north-eastern departments of Jalapa, Chiquimula and Alta Verapaz, as well as Guatemala City. The group met with organised communities, national organisations, researchers, state institutions and political prisoners, many at risk for defending human rights, their territory, land and water. This report summarizes the first-hand accounts of serious human rights violations reported to the group during the delegation. Some key observations the group documented:
● The string of assassinations that inspired the delegation were not isolated incidents but are part of an ongoing trend of systemic violence and targeted attacks against defenders and territorial leaders.
● The delegation repeatedly heard about the lack of access to justice for crimes committed against Indigenous community members, while at the same time how local prosecutors and judges move swiftly to protect local, national and international economic interests.
● The actors behind the dispossession and pillage of Indigenous territories, which led to genocide for economic gain, remain strong and poised to keep power at any cost. Since the delegation ended, the targeted violence that Indigenous campesinos, or farmers, and land defenders face has only intensified. Despite the violent land evictions and murder noted here and well documented by Guatemalan and international human rights organisations, there have been no arrests for the crimes outlined in this report. In fact, campesino organisations we visited during the delegation continue to be attacked, their members killed while more defenders have been criminalized.
In January 2019, President Morales tried to unilaterally and illegally cancel the mandate of the UN-mandated International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), in an effort to attack the rule of law and democratic institutionality. That same month, Transparency International released a report showing that the Guatemalan government was perceived to be one of the most corrupt countries in the Americas. On January 30, Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas noted in his 2018 report to Congress that “with more corruption, there are fewer human rights.” Impunity coupled with corruption have left grassroots Indigenous organisations, communities and families without justice.
Our delegation heard how agribusiness and mining companies are responsible for the dispossession of water, forests and lands of Indigenous communities. Not only are these activities resulting in less land for subsistence farming and food crops, contributing to increased malnutrition and poverty, they are major contributors to exacerbating the climate crisis. Throughout the delegation, we heard that for many Guatemalans, especially young adults and youth with few opportunities and no access to basic rights like health care, education and food, migration to the USA is their only option. Based on the delegation’s observations, we urge the US government to:
● Take measures to support the Constitutional Court and the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office.
● Openly show its support for CICIG and its legal right to continue its works until its mandate ends in September 2019.
● Support efforts of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate, prosecute and sanction those responsible for the murders of land defenders.
● Urge the Attorney General to end the malicious prosecution of land defenders, which has led to an alarming number of political prisoners in Guatemala in recent years.
A report by teleSur on 10 May 2019 gives details of the 2019 homicide rate in Honduras. Extracts from the teleSur report are given below.
“We cannot place a policeman or military member on every bus.”
The number of violent deaths in Honduras has gone up in April and May, sometimes by a rate as high as 98 percent over figures from 2018.
According to a report by the General Directorate of Forensic Medicine and the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OV-UNAH), between Jan. 1 and May 8 of 2019, 1,258 people were murdered – a rate of 10 per day. While the overall number for the year is lower than the 1,340 registered homicides that took place during the same time last, the number of deaths in April and May of 2019 have increased significantly.
April 2019 saw 78 more violent deaths over last April and in the first 8 days of May there were 113 violent deaths, 38 more than those that occurred in the same period of the previous year.
Wednesday (8th) was an especially violent day with 25 murders taking place all over the country according to a report by Criterio. The deaths were registered in cities such as La Ceiba, Choluteca, Danlí, Lepaterique, Teupasenti, El Paraíso, San Pedro Sula and Santa Cruz de Yojoa.
Just the day before on Tuesday at the Central American Security Conference 2019 run by the United States Southern Command, and including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico as observers, the head of the Armed Forces of Honduras René Orlando Fonseca had said that Honduras “lives in a climate of peace and security” and that “violence is sporadic.”
This year, 274 homicides were reported in January, 258 violent deaths in February, and in March there were 251 homicides, figures below those registered in 2018 during the same period.
Those three encouraging months of reduced homicides in the country were overshadowed, however, by the high incidence of deaths in April and the start of May.
Spokesman for the Secretariat of Security Jair Meza, a high ranking police official, attributed the increase in violent deaths to “gangs and gangs linking up to acquire territories for the sale of drugs in different neighbourhoods.” Meza argued that another factor causing the high incidence of homicides is extortion, mainly in the transportation sector.
According to Sepol (the Police Statistical System), last Wednesday the driver of a local bus was executed on the Boulevard del Norte, apparently because of extortion.
“We cannot place a policeman or military member on every bus,” says Meza.
By Martin Mowforth
Key words: Honduras; foreign troops; Southcom; migration prevention; counter-terrorism; Olivia Zúñiga Cáceres; civil unrest.
1,000 Israeli troops to Honduras
In May this year a multilateral treaty between Honduras, Israel and the United States saw the deployment of 1,000 Israeli soldiers to Honduras to train the Armed Forces of Honduras and the National Police. The treaty was forged between Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The main mission of the troops is to train for border protection to prevent migrants fleeing Honduras to the USA, but they will also offer training in the fight against drug trafficking, investigation and counter-terrorism. (It may be a forlorn hope that they will unearth and expose the terrorism practised by the US forces in Honduras against so many Latin American nations.) The 1,000 troops will be stationed with the Joint Task Force of the US at the Soto Cano air base in Palmerola, the largest US military base in Latin America.
The presence of Israeli soldiers is part of a bilateral cooperation agreed between the two countries and signed before Honduras transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Another agreement between the two countries (signed in 2016 and for a period of ten years) commits Honduras to purchasing a million dollars’ worth of arms and military equipment and the repowering of ships and planes.
Olivia Zúñiga Cáceres, a deputy from the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party), explained that the 2009 post-coup government “began to make military agreements where the Honduran army would receive more training, and it is all paid for with the taxes of the Honduran people, so that all of the general budget that was destined for health, education and public services is reduced.”
Zúñiga Cáceres (who also happens to be one of the daughters of the assassinated leader of COPINH, Berta Cáceres) went on to describe the Israeli armed forces as: “specialists in genocide, specialists in torture, which they do against the Palestinian people.”
300 US troops to Honduras
Another Southern Command (Southcom) brigade of US Navy and Marine soldiers arrived in Honduras at the beginning of June to “improve disaster response and other crisis situations”.
As Popular Resistance.org writes, “Southcom has been a controversial actor in Latin American politics for many years since its founding as a force to defend US interests at the Panama Canal. The commander of Southcom, US Admiral Craig Faller, has intimated that the force could be re-oriented for intervention in Venezuela …”
It is interesting to note that this new deployment of forces coincides with widespread civil unrest in Honduras. The protests of health and education workers have grown into broader demonstrations against government corruption and neoliberal economic development policies such as privatisation and deregulation. It also coincides with US efforts to persuade northern triangle countries’ governments (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) to prevent the waves of migrants that have chosen over the last nine months to leave the failed state that is Honduras.
- Telesur, 6 May 2019, ‘1,000 Israeli Soldiers To Arrive in Honduras to Train Troops, Police on Border Protection’
- Popular Resistance.org, 22 May 2019, ‘”This Is A War Against The Honduran People”’
- Criterio, 3 June 2019, ‘Masiva protesta de médicos y docentes pese a división orquestada por el gobierno’
- Rights Action, 3 June 2019, ‘Honduran Presidents linked to drug-trafficking & money laundering since US & Canadian-backed coup ousted Honduras’ last democratic government’
- Public Sector Finance, 7 June 2019, ‘Protests in Honduras continue over public sector reforms’
- Telesurenglish.net, 8 June 2019, ‘300 US Southcom Troops Arrive in Honduras to Teach ‘Humanitarian Assistance’’
- School of The Americas watch (SOAW), 12 June 2019, SOAW News
June 7, 2019
We are grateful to Rights Action for reproducing in June 2019 an analysis made by Insight Crime in April 2019. Details of Rights Action and Insight Crime are given at the end of this article.
Key words: organised crime; drug trafficking; President Jimmy Morales; International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG); illicit campaign finance; corruption.
US Drug Probe Lands Guatemala President in Hot Water
by Parker Asmann, April 25, 2019
Controversy is swirling in Guatemala after evidence emerged showing that President Jimmy Morales used a helicopter owned by a presidential candidate recently arrested in the United States on drug charges — a case that has turned up the heat significantly on the Central American nation’s head of state.
President Morales, who will be replaced after elections this year, reportedly used a helicopter owned by candidate Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana for official business in January 2018 and possibly on at least one other occasion, Prensa Libre reported. Morales claimed in an April 23 press release that the helicopter was contracted by his government with a company called Maya World Tours, which brokers helicopter flights.
However, a legal representative for Maya World Tours said that the company never provided the use of Estrada’s helicopter to Morales, and that the president used the aircraft through some other arrangement, according to Prensa Libre.
Just last week, US authorities arrested Estrada, a former presidential candidate with the centre-right National Change Union (Unión del Cambio Nacionalista — UCN) political party, on drug and firearms charges. Estrada allegedly sought millions in campaign funds from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for facilitating the group’s drug trafficking activities.
Despite his arrest, Morales stated that neither he nor his country’s intelligence officials had any idea that Estrada was engaged in drug trafficking. A 2011 US embassy cable, later released by WikiLeaks, dubbed Estrada’s UCN a ‘narco party’. Estrada and his party were also investigated in 2015 for alleged illicit campaign financing and links to drug trafficking.
Morales confirmed that he met with Estrada April 2 of this year at a finca owned by the candidate in southeast Jalapa department, Soy 502 reported. The announcement came after another presidential candidate, Sandra Torres of the National Unity of Hope (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza — UNE) party, raised questions about the encounter in an April 22 tweet.
After “insistent” requests from Estrada, according to Morales, the two talked about the transition process if Estrada were to win the upcoming June election — and nothing else. “I have no problem in saying it, because I have done it in a transparent way,” Morales said.
Other associates of Morales and his National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional — FCN-Nación) political party are also alleged to have links to Estrada and the UCN.
Ernesto José Degenhart Asturias, the brother of Guatemala Interior Minister Enrique Antonio Degenhart Asturias, is running for congress on the UCN ticket. Degenhart has been at the heart of Morales’s battle to weaken the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), which is investigating Morales for alleged illicit campaign financing during his 2015 presidential run.
A number of other shadowy officials with links to the Morales administration are also connected to the UCN or running for various government positions on behalf of the political party this election season.
InSight Crime Analysis
The United States government has played a bizarre role in backing President Morales’ efforts to undermine investigations carried out by the CICIG and Attorney General’s Office into the alleged criminal conduct of Morales and his political party. However, the Estrada investigation by US authorities has returned attention to Morales — even as he continues his attacks on the CICIG.
US Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the key supporter of Morales’ drive to quash Guatemala’s anti-graft unit. He has halted US funds for the CICIG — which accounts for just under half of the commission’s budget — due to its alleged role in helping prosecute a Russian family in relation to a scheme to fabricate identification documents. Those allegations, however, were shown to be unfounded and lacking any evidence. Yet Rubio alleged that the CICIG was manipulated or possibly even working with the Russian government in prosecuting the family.
While Rubio and other powerbrokers have hobbled the CICIG from abroad, Morales has waged a war against its prosecutors at home. Morales ousted CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez from the country and later ordered the expulsion of the rest of the commission’s agents. In January 2019, he terminated the agreement that founded the CICIG altogether, putting the country on the brink of a constitutional crisis.
Whether Morales’ links to Estrada will force the US government to reconsider its relationship with Guatemala and its embattled president is impossible to infer, according to Mike Allison, a Central America expert and the head of the political science department at the University of Scranton. “It’s tough to predict when the US government will work with people ‘known’ to be corrupt and when it won’t,” Allison said.
Indeed, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Morales and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández for their cooperation on security last year. At the same time, some of Hernández’s family members are alleged to be “large-scale drug traffickers.” Previous US administrations also worked with the likes of disgraced former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina until he was arrested along with his former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, on corruption charges.
However, support for Morales may be waning in some US government circles. Kimberly Breier, the United States’ Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, is reportedly not going to meet with President Morales and Foreign Affairs Minister Sandra Jovel during her upcoming tour through the Northern Triangle region.
“Without increased pressure from the United States and the international community, I don’t see Guatemalan authorities moving against Morales,” Allison said. However, “it’s somewhat more likely that if there is evidence behind the allegations against Morales, those charges could be pursued in US courts.”
Rights Action is a non-profit organisation incorporated in the U.S. and Canada. Founded in the U.S. in 1995, Rights Action grew out of Guatemala Partners that, itself, was created from the merger of PEACE for Guatemala and Guatemala Health Rights Support Project, both founded in 1983. https://rightsaction.org/
InSight Crime is a foundation dedicated to the study of the principal threat to national and citizen security in Latin America and the Caribbean: Organized Crime. www.insightcrime.org/
The following report comes from TeleSur:
Published 19 October 2019 Telesur
Hondurans called for the resignation of Juan Orlando Hernandez after a U.S. federal court convicted his brother of drug trafficking.
Hondurans on Friday took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) after the New York Federal Court found his brother, Tony Hernandez, guilty on charges of drug trafficking, use of weapons and lying to authorities.
“We call on all our militancy to total, organized and permanent nationwide mobilization by performing peaceful but firm and forceful protests,” said former president Manuel Zelaya, who is the Freedom and Refoundation Party (Libre) coordinator.
Besides asking the United States to suspend all aid to the Hernandez administration, Zelaya asked to give the Honduran people a “democratic government” and fair laws.
During the trial of Tony Hernandez, the U.S. jury heard testimony from drug traffickers who claimed that politician JOH used their money to finance his campaigns on at least two occasions.
This alleged fact, which Hondurans had long been denouncing, triggered protests against a president who began his second presidential term on January 27, 2018 amid accusations of electoral fraud.
Honduras: having the background with shout ‘Out with JOH’, the night was spent with the Hondurans protesting against the narco-government and the tyrant JOH repressing the people. In Honduras, politics and drugs are the same thing.
After Zelaya’s call, protests began to spread throughout the country. On Friday afternoon, Hondurans blocked roads that led to cities such as Yarumela, La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula and Cortes.
The protests would gradually acquire more forceful expressions. On Friday night, access roads to the headquarters of the Honduran government were closed. Meanwhile, the number of burning barricades increased in the streets and highways.
Former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla called for the installation of a transitional government, which would be chaired by him until the winner of the 2021 elections takes office.
The rejection of President JOH happened even in the least expected places and moments. During a sports program broadcasted on television, the host railed against Hernandez whom he described as a “drug trafficker”, emphasizing that the ruling National Party lawmakers are “cockroaches.”