UN human rights experts on Oct. 22 welcomed a recent Guatemalan court ruling that the deaths of 1,771 ethnic Ixil Mayan people between 1983 and 1984 constituted a "genocide," stating: "Impunity for perpetrators is unacceptable. It is essential that judicial processes respect international standards in determining the responsibilities of the perpetrators and masterminds of serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law." The deaths occurred during the 36-year-long Guatemalan civil war, in which 200,000 civilians were killed. It was determined that under "Operation Sofia" (documents, PDF), then-dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt had ordered the army to annihilate the entire Ixil population. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013, but that verdict was overturned for procedural errors. Trial resumed last year, but Ríos Montt died in April 2018, before the case was concluded.
Guatemala’s special anti-corruption Court for High Risk Crimes on Oct. 9 sentenced former vice president Roxana Baldetti to prison for 15 years and six months for her role in the so-called "Magic Water" scandal. The case concerned the awarding of an $18 million dollar contract to decontaminate Lake Amatitlán, an important water source for peasant communities outside the capital. The contract went to Israeli firm M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd. The company claimed it had a "special formula" that could clean the lake within months. An investigation revealed that the "formula" consisted of water, salt and chlorine. The Authority for the Sustainable Management of Lake Amatitlán (AMSA), establsihed by the government to oversee the clean-up, documented illegal dumping of agricultural and municipal waste into the Río Villalobos, which empties into the lake. The UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) supported Guatemalan prosecutors in the conspiracy case against Baldetti and 12 others. Baldetti is also accused of involvement in “La Linea” scandal, in which Guatemalan officials brought imports into the country at a discounted tariff. (Jurist, BBC News, Al Jazeera,Oct. 10; Times of Israel, Prensa Libre, El Periódico, EmisorasUnidas, Guatemala, Oct. 9; Prensa Libre, May 18)
Trump's executive order officially calling for an end to separating migrant families on the border actually contains provisions laying the groundwork for the indefinite detention of intercepted migrants. Entitled "Temporary Detention Policy for Families Entering this Country Illegally," it instructs the Secretary of Defense to provide "any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families" to the Department of Homeland Security—a clear reference to placing detained migrants in military bases. It also charges the Defense Department with responsibility to "construct such facilities if necessary..."
Four retired senior members of the Guatemalan military—including two high-ranking officers previously thought to be untouchable, former Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García and former chief of military intelligence Manuel Callejas y Callejas—were convicted May 23 of involvement in crimes against humanity. Three of the officials received a sentence of 58 years in prison, while one was sentenced to 33 years. The former officials faced charges arising from the illegal detention, torture and sexual violation of Emma Molina Theissen, as well as separate charges for aggravated sexual assault. Three of the officials also faced charges for the enforced disappearance of Emma’s 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio in 1981. The five officials were detained in January 2016, and in March 2017, the preliminary judge determined that there was sufficient evidence to send them to trial. The public trial started in Guatemala City's High Risk Court C, on March 1 of this year.
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)
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.
Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers to be Taiwan part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.
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.