Continuing emergency in Guatemala, 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: 

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

Full Report Here.

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.

Read the full report here.

Organised crime, including drug traffickers, linked to repressive Guatemalan president and government

Rights Action
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

Guatemala President Jimmy Morales stepping off a plane owned by recently arrested
presidential candidate Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana

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.

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.

GUATEMALA’S PRESIDENTS: Same old corruption

A summary by Martin Mowforth – see sources below.

On 14th January [2020] 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’.

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’.

Guatemala – a state of emergency?

The following is a slightly fuller version of the text that appears in Box 9.1 (p. 172) of the book.

The following extracts were taken from Guatemala News, 25 March 2009 and can be retrieved from

The evolution of the organised crime wave that started last year in Guatemala reached a boiling point yesterday. Gun fire attacks on buses and killings of bus drivers in several strategic locations in the capital virtually paralysed Guatemala City. It was a very well organised plan of attack, … Guatemala City has over 4 million inhabitants, it is severely overcrowded and congested by too many cars …

Yesterday, the local radio stations were reporting the attacks and the citizens of the capital started to have a feeling of being under siege by unstoppable crime. Rumours started to circulate and disinformation transmitted by the radios started to create a sense of panic in the population. Calls were made to local radio stations demanding the military to be put on the streets to bring order and for the government to impose a state of emergency.

The strategy of assassination of drivers of the public bus system started before the presidential elections in 2007. Some sectors accused one of the presidential candidates, ex-general Otto Pérez Molina[1], of being the brains of that particular strategy to create insecurity and fear in the population. (The accusation has not been documented or confirmed.) …

In his message last night, broadcast on national television, President Alvaro Colom stated that the events that occurred yesterday are part of a strategy to destabilise the government. He insisted that it is a reaction of organised crime to the security actions taken by the government. …

There are unconfirmed theories that the military and its usual sympathisers, certain power sectors of the country, want to establish military presence to control the security situation as soon as possible. …

There are other theories that claim that the publication of the police files from the period of the civil war – when the police were under the control of the military – is causing concern among the people who then ruled the country officially and unofficially (1960 – 1996). The recent declassification of military files covering some operations during the same time period and the creation of a Presidential Commission to declassify more military files is making some people extremely nervous. …

So, the question is: are yesterday’s events of violence, reporting of the media and demands for military presence, just a coincidence, or were they orchestrated?

[1] In November 2011, Otto Pérez Molina was elected President of Guatemala and assumed power in January 2012

Guatemala’s Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

By Steven Dudley, Insight Crime

15th December 2016

Insight Crime’s report on: ‘Guatemala’s Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla’ (15 December 2016) is written by Steven Dudley. Along with many other Insight Crime reports, it is an essential read for anyone who wishes to keep up-to-date with happenings in Guatemala and anyone wishing to understand the extent, depth and implications of corruption and impunity in Guatemala.

The link to access the report is at:

The report is a little longer than the majority of the reports and articles included here in  and so only the link to the report is given here.

Insight Crime is a Foundation that is dedicated to the study of the principal threat to national and citizen security in Latin America and the Caribbean: organised crime. It seeks to deepen and inform the debate about organised crime in the Americas by providing the general public with regular reporting, analysis and investigation on the subject and on state efforts to combat it.

You couldn’t make it up – I – the case of Rodrigo Rosenberg

This is a slightly fuller text version of Box 9.2 (p. 173) in the book. In particular this website version provides more information about the sources that may be consulted for further information about the subject.

It was a murder that spawned a macabre YouTube sensation and threatened to topple Guatemala’s government. Hitmen shot dead Rodrigo Rosenberg, a lawyer, in Guatemala City soon after he recorded a sombre video blaming his imminent assassination on President Colom.

Rosenberg was thought to be in a suicidal state, following the assassination of his close friends Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa, the recent death of his mother and separation from his wife and children. He had been investigating the deaths of the Musas and had been romantically involved with Marjorie Musa.

An investigation by the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) involved 300 officials and analysed more than 100,000 telephone calls and many videos, CCTV recordings, photographs and documents. Rosenberg had contracted his cousins Francisco José Valdés Paíz and José Estuardo Valdés Paíz to hire a hitman to carry out the murder of a supposed extortionist who was blackmailing Rosenberg. The identity of the target was allegedly unknown to the Valdés Paíz brothers, but they are now seen as the masterminds of the murder and are currently avoiding arrest. The machinations involved in the scheme would be of great fascination to dramatists, conspiracy theorists and fantasists, but are far too complex to be detailed here.

Ultimately the hit was carried out by a group led by Willian Gilberto Santos Divas, a former member of the police. Rosenberg was shot three times in the head, once in the neck and once in the back. In September 2009, nine suspects, including members of the police and military, were arrested for the murder.

The CICIG investigation concluded that the lawyer, in a state of depression over personal problems and angry with the government, sacrificed his own life in an elaborate sting. Rosenberg made the video knowing that two days later assassins he had hired would ambush him near his home. He apparently hoped the video would render him a martyr.

The Head of CICIG, Carlos Castresana, said they had found no evidence to link the President to Rosenberg’s death.

CICIG (2010) ‘Caso Rosenberg: Resultados de la Investigación’, Guatemala City, United Nations CICIG, 12 January 2010.
Rory Carroll (2009) ‘Lawyer in YouTube murder plot video hired his own assassins – UN’, The Guardian, London, 14 January 2010.
Danilo Valladares (2009) ‘Guatemala: Police, Military arrested for lawyer’s murder’, IPS, 14 September 2009.
Julie Chappell (UK Ambassador to Guatemala) (2010) ‘The Rosenberg Assassination and Justice in Guatemala’, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 13 January 2010.
Moon Travel Guide (2010) ‘Rosenberg planned his own execution, UN commission says’, 14 January 2010: (accessed 24.01.10).
Gilberto López (2010) ‘La frase lapidaria, ……’, Semanario Universidad, (accessed 10.01.10).
Martin Barillas (2010) ‘Guatemala: murdered lawyer planned his own death’, Spero News, 12 January 2010, (accessed 24.01.10).
Central American Politics (2010) ‘Rosenberg orchestrated his own murder?’, 12 January 2010, (accessed 24.01.10).

Otto Pérez Molina

Elected at the end of 2011, General Otto Pérez Molina was inaugurated as President of Guatemala in early 2012. After training at Guatemala’s National Military Academy, the School of the Americas and the Inter-American Defence College, Pérez Molina served in the Guatemalan army’s special forces known as the Kaibiles which are described by Wikipedia as “notoriously brutal”[1] and by the Commission for Historical Clarification (Comisión para el Esclaracimiento Histórico, CEH) as “a killing machine”.[2]

He later became director of military intelligence and inspector-general of the army, but during the 1978 – 1982 period of slaughter in the Guatemalan countryside he served as a major in the Ixil Triangle in the El Quiché department of Guatemala. It was here that acts of genocide were routinely committed against local Mayan populations. These acts were documented by the United Nations sponsored Truth Commission[3] which reported on war crimes and acts of genocide committed during the 35 years of internal conflict and which found that the military had been responsible for 93 per cent of the 660 massacres which took place during the conflict. Over a half of all the massacres took place in El Quiché department and many of these took place in the Ixil Triangle where Pérez Molina was in charge of counter-insurgency at a time when 80 – 90 per cent of the villages were razed.[4]

The Truth Commission was unable to name individuals involved in the slaughter, but a letter of allegation sent in July 2011 by three human rights defenders[5] to the United Nations accused Pérez of involvement in genocide and torture committed in El Quiché during the Guatemalan war.[6] Pérez has always denied any wrongdoing during the war and is proud of his record, particularly his involvement in the peace process negotiations. Despite this involvement in the peace process, investigative reporter Allan Nairn has demonstrated the links between the operations of the Guatemalan death squads at the same time (1994) as the G-2 Intelligence Unit was headed by Pérez Molina.[7] Prosecutors, however, have declined to pursue actions against him on the grounds that the evidence is believed to be slim.[8]

In his election campaign, Pérez tried to reach out to indigenous groups and to emphasise his progressive and reforming side, despite his promises to crack down on violent crime and drug traffickers with an ‘iron fist’.

[1] Wikipedia entry for Otto Pérez Molina (19 March 2012) (accessed 23.03.12).
[2] Commission for Historical Clarification (February 1999) ‘Guatemala: Memory of Silence’, available at: (accessed 14.04.12).
[3] Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) (1999) ‘Memoria de Silencio’, United Nations.
[4] Mica Rosenberg and Mike McDonald (11 November 2011) ‘New Guatemala leader faces questions about past’, (accessed 1 April 2012).
[5] Annie Bird, Co-Director, Rights Action; Jennifer K. Harbury, human rights attorney; and Kelsey Alford-Jones, Director, Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA.
[6] Europa Press (20 July 2011) ‘Denuncian a Pérez Molina por genocidio y tortura de indígenas en Guatemala’, (accessed 1 April 2012).
[7] Allan Nairn (17 April 1995) ‘CIA Death Squads’, available at: (accessed 19.04.12).
[8] Op.cit. (Rosenberg and McDonald).