Guatemala

Guatemala postpones ex-dictator's genocide retrial

The retrial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity was delayed on Jan. 5. Two of the three judges on the panel accepted the defense's motion that the third judge, Judge Jeannette Valdez, should recuse herself from the trial on the grounds that she is biased because she wrote her master's thesis on genocide. Rios Montt is being tried for ordering military operations that led to the torture, rape and murder of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan between 1982 and 1983, part of Guatemala's bloody 1960-1996 civil war. Rios Montt was convicted on these charges in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in prison, but 10 days later his sentence was overturned by the Constitutional Court on procedural grounds and a retrial was ordered.

Central America: refugee 'crisis' plan gets a debut

The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) hosted a special event on Nov. 14 in Washington, DC to present a plan that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—Central America's "Northern Triangle"—are proposing as a response to the spike earlier this year in immigration to the US by minors from their countries. The "Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle: A Road Map" was originally released in September and is similar to programs announced at a July summit in Washington. However, the IADB event, with US vice president Joseph Biden and the three Central American presidents in attendance, "was the real 'coming out' party for the proposals," the DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) wrote in its "Americas Blog."

Latin America: GAO reports on FTA labor violations

On Nov. 13 the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that investigates federal spending for Congress, released a report on the US government's handling of labor violations in countries with which it has "free trade" agreements (FTAs). Recent FTAs, such as the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), have requirements for participating countries to meet certain standards in labor practices. The GAO claimed to find progress in this area in the partner countries—but also "persistent challenges to labor rights, such as limited enforcement capacity, the use of subcontracting to avoid direct employment, and, in Colombia and Guatemala, violence against union leaders."

Guatemala: reparations in abuses linked to hydro

Guatemala's President Otto Pérez Molina on Nov. 8 apologized "in the name of the state" to 33 indigenous communities in the north of the country for rights violations commited in relation to the construction of the Chixoy hydro-electric project in the late 1970s. The statement comes after an Oct. 14 pact between the 33 communities for reparations of $155 million. Authorities now acknowledge that at least 400 campesinos were killed in massacres at the hands of state forces and thousands more displaced for refusing to give up their lands for the project. The affected communities are in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz and Quiché. Reparations to the communities were made a condition of further loans from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank—both of which had funded the Chixoy project in the first place. (Prensa Libre, Nov. 9; EFE, Nov. 8)

Honduras claims blow against Sinaloa Cartel

In an operation dubbed "Saturn II," a unit of the new Honduran National Police elite anti-narco force, the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Response Groups (TIGRES), joined with DEA agents Oct. 2 to raid a house in the pueblo of El Porvenir Florida, near Copán on the Guatemalan border—scoring the arrest of one the country's reigning kingpins, José Inocente Valle Valle. The Valle Valle family is said to control the greatest share of cocaine passing through Honduras. Three other brothers of José Inocente remain at large, and face trafficking charges in the United States. Troops from the Guatemalan National Civil Police also participated in the raid. Among the items recovered in the house were 12 pieces of solid gold each impressed with the inscription "Sinaloa"—presumably indicating commercial ties between the Valle Valle family and Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. (Tiempo, Honduras, Oct. 2)

Central America: US returns migrants to danger

US government policies for dealing with unauthorized migrants at the Mexico-US border are endangering Hondurans and other Central Americans by sending them back to their home countries without adequate consideration of their asylum claims, according to a 44-page report that the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization released on Oct. 16. "In its frenzy to stem the tide of migrants from Central America, the US is sending asylum seekers back to the threat of murder, rape and other violence," said Clara Long, the HRW researcher who wrote the report, "'You Don't Have Rights Here': US Border Screening and Returns of Central Americans to Risk of Serious Harm."

Central America: child migrant 'crisis' vanishes

The administration of US president Barack Obama announced on Sept. 30 that it planned to set up processing centers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras so that children from these countries could apply for US refugee status without actually entering the US. Officials said the new policy came in response to the spike over the last year in illegal crossing into the US by unaccompanied minors and by women with small children. The number of Central American children admitted through the program would be small, however, according to an administration memorandum which provides for a total of 70,000 refugees to be admitted in fiscal 2015, the period from October this year through September 2015. This only includes 4,000 refugees from all of Latin American and the Caribbean, although some Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans could be admitted through another 2,000 slots not specified for particular regions. (CNN México, Oct. 1; New York Times, Oct. 1)

Guatemala: trial starts in 1980 embassy fire

On Oct. 1 a Guatemalan court began hearing the case of Pedro García Arredondo, a former chief of the National Police who is charged with causing the deaths of 37 people in a fire at the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City on Jan. 31, 1980. "We finally want to close a cycle of our sorrow, of our suffering," indigenous activist and 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum told reporters the day before the trial was to start. "It's painful to carry this," said Menchú, whose father, campesino activist Vicente Menchú, died in the fire.

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