Guatemala

Guatemala: general strike to demand prez resign

Independence Day celebrations in Guatemala on Sept. 15 were disrupted by protests across the country, as thousands took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Jimmy Morales. The protests were sparked after the country's Congress two days earlier approved legislation that decreases the penalties for campaign finance crimes. The reform reduces the maximum sentence for illegally funding an election from 12 to 10 years, and allows prison time to be waived altogether for a fine. Prosecutors sought to remove Morales' immunity in order to investigate the misappropriation of over $800,000 in election funds from his 2015 campaign, but Congress voted Sept. 11 to turn down the prosecutors' request. Congress only voted on the request at all after being ordered to do so by the country's Supreme Court of Justice. The Constitutional Court, the highest body overseeing civil law, has also provisionally suspended the new campaign finance legislation. (AFP, Sept. 16; NYT, TeleSur, RFI, Jurist, Sept. 15; Reuters, Sept. 13; Jurist, Sept. 12; Jurist, Sept. 11)

Guatemala: halt expulsion of anti-corruption chief

The Guatemalan Supreme Court on Aug. 29 suspended President Jimmy Morales' order to deport the head of a UN anti-corruption commission from the country. The order came from the president two days after Ivan Velásquez, the Colombian prosecutor who leads Guatemala's International Commission against Impunity, announced he was seeking to lift Morales' immunity from prosecution in order to investigate alleged illegal campaign financing. The Supreme Court quickly halted the deportation, stating that the order was issued improperly. The UN said that it was disturbed by Morales' actions against Velásquez. In protest of Morales' actions, citizens declared a state of siege in the capital, while US ambassador to Guatemala Todd Robinson stated that the president's moves could put at risk a US development plan in Central America to reduce poverty and crime.

Mexico: fugitive narco-governors snared

Javier Duarte, the fugitive ex-governor of Mexico's Veracruz state, was detained in Guatemala on April 15 in a joint operation by Interpol and Guatemalan police. He's now awaiting extradition back to Mexico, where he is wanted on charges of money laundering and protecting organized crime. Duarte was governor of Veracruz from 2010 until he stepped down last October, shortly before the end of his term. He was doing so in order to face the allegations against him—but then he disappeared and went on the lam.

Guatemala: Barrio 18 gang in deadly prison siege

At least three guards were killed when riot police were sent in to storm the Etapa 2 juvenile detention center outside Guatemala City, where members of the notorious Barrio 18 narco-gang had seized cell-blocks and taken hostages March 20. Riot troops were ordered to take the facility despite desperate pleas from guards being held hostage. Latin American Herald Tribune reports that before the bloody climax, hostages had shouted from windows, urging authorities to negotiate with their captors. "We are begging and the government doesn't want to do anything," one reportedly cried. "They give no attention to our lives."

Central America: tri-national anti-gang task force

A joint security force bringing together the three nations of Central America's Northern Triangle officially began operations to fight narco-gangs and organized crime on Nov. 15. The force is made up of military, police, intelligence and border officials from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—which all face growing internal violence from criminal networks. The force was officially inaugurated at a ceremony in the Honduran border town of Ocotepeque, near the point where the three countries meet. The presidents of all three nations were in attendance.

Guatemala: constitutional reform advances indigenous rights

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in a press briefing Oct. 7 welcomed the presentation of a draft bill on constitutional justice reforms in the Guatemalan legislature. Stating that this "represents an historic opportunity to consolidate the remarkable progress the country has achieved in the fight against impunity and corruption in recent years," the OHCHR expressed hope that the bill would be swiftly approved by the Guatemala Congress. Among other things, the bill seeks to improve access to justice for women and indigenous peoples, recognize indigenous peoples' legal jurisdiction over internal matters, strengthen the independence and objectivity of judges and magistrates, and depoliticize the nomination and appointment of officials in the justice system.

Guatemalans march on capital for water rights

Nearly 15,000 converged on Guatemala City on Earth Day, April 22, the culmination of a cross-country march by peasants and popular organizations to demand local rights over access to water. Marchers set out April 11 from Tecun Uman in the southern coastal department of San Marcos, and from Puruhá, Baja Verapaz, in the central highlands. The March for Water, Mother Earth, Territory and Life was called to "defend water resources against the voracity of agro-industry and extractive industry," according to a statement form the indigenous organization Winaq. The statement said the movement "condemns the abusive, inhuman and impune use of by companies linked to agro-industry and extraction of metals, and the commercialization of the same." The statement called access to water an "elemental human rights," and called for it to be enshrined in Guatemala's constitution.

Clinton calls for Central American 'Plan Colombia'

In a meeting with the NY Daily News editorial board April 9, Hillary Clinton insisted that the 2009 overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 was not an illegal coup. In an exchange later broadcast on Democracy Now, journalist Juan González cited evidence from released e-mails that then-Secretary of State Clinton was being urged by her top aids to declare Zelaya's removal a military coup—to no avail. Clinton responded: