Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets May 16, demanding the nation's President Otto Pérez Molina step down amid a scandal that has already forced the resignation of his vice president, Roxana Baldetti. Despite rain, protesters marched in 13 cities. Throngs filled the capital's central plaza, where a giant banner read "We are the people." The mobilization was largely leaderless, organized by social media under the hashtag #RenunciaYa (Resign Already). It all blew up in April, when the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala released findings of an investigation into a customs bribery ring uncovered by Guatemalan prosecutors. Baldetti's private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, was named as the ringleader, forcing Baldetti to step down May 8—despite protesting her innocence. Pérez Molina likewise pleads ignorance about the ring, dubbed "La Línea," and pledges a crackdown on corruption. Monzón is on the lam and an Interpol warrant has been issued.
US political and trade policies "play a major role" in worsening the poverty and violence that are root causes of unauthorized immigration to the US by Hondurans, according to a report released by the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation, on Jan. 12. The report, "Trade, Violence and Migration: The Broken Promises to Honduran Workers," grew out of the experiences of a delegation the union group sent to Honduras in October following a sharp increase in migration from the country by unaccompanied minors the previous spring. The report notes that Honduras is now "the most unequal country in Latin America," with an increase in poverty by 4.5 percentage points from 2006 to 2013. "[T]he percentage of those working full time but receiving less than the minimum wage has gone up by nearly 30%."
On Jan. 29 the administration of US president Barack Obama announced that its budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2016 (October 2015-September 2016) would include $1 billion in aid to Central America, with an emphasis on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The goal is to help "implement systemic reforms that address the lack of economic opportunity, the absence of strong institutions and the extreme levels of violence that have held the region back at a time of prosperity for the rest of the Western Hemisphere," according to a White House fact sheet. The New York Times published an op-ed the same day by Vice President Joseph Biden explaining the request as a way "to stem the dangerous surge in migration" last summer—a reference to an uptick in border crossings by unaccompanied Central American minors that peaked last June and quickly diminished in subsequent months.
On Jan. 19 Guatemala's High Risk Court B convicted former police chief Pedro García Arredondo of the deaths of 37 people in a fire at the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City on Jan. 31, 1980. García Arredondo was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the fire and 50 years for the deaths of two students; he is already serving a 70-year sentence for the killing of a student. The fire broke out when police stormed the embassy, which had been occupied by indigenous and campesino protesters from El Quiché department; the police blocked the doors and refused to let firefighters enter. The victims included the Spanish consul, two of his employees, a former Guatemalan vice president, a former Guatemalan foreign relations minister, and 22 El Quiché campesinos; one was Vicente Menchú, the father of 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum.
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.
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."
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'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)