Central America Theater
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.
Tens of thousands from across Nicaragua marched on the capital Managua April 28, including large delegations of campesinos from the countryside, in a "pilgrimage for peace" called by Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes following days of angry protests and repression that left some 40 dead. The Catholic Church agreed to mediate a dialogue between the government and opposition over the planned reform of the social security system that set off the protests 10 days earlier. But the "pilgrimage" struck a political tone, with marchers calling for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report (PDF) March 12 detailing human rights violations in the aftermath of the 2017 Honduran presidential election. The report documents violence committed by the security forces against protestors and civilians in the period between election night on Nov. 26 and inauguration day on Jan. 27. According to the report, at least 1,351 people were detained under a curfew put in place early December. It was also reported that civilians were detained in illegal house raids. In addition, 23 were killed and 60 injured in post-election protests, including 16 victims shot to death by security forces. There were no charges pressed for the killings.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women march in Nicaragua's capital Nov. 25 was ironically shut down by the riot police, who blocked the streets off shortly after the demonstrators gathered. National Police troops also detained several women who were travelling to Managua from elsewhere around the country to attend the march, with vehicles stopped and seized with delegations from Chinandega, Masaya and Matagalpa. The Managua march was emotionally charged, as it was led by Elea Valle—a campesina woman whose husband, son and daughter were killed two weeks earlier in a raid by army troops on their home in the country's eastern rainforest.
Talk about bad timing. The US State Department has just certified that the Honduran government has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for the Central American country to receive millions of dollars in US aid—just as President Juan Orlando Hernández has suspended constitutional rights, unleashed the army on protesters, and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to suppress unrest sparked by his contested re-election. The document, dated Nov. 28 and reported today by Reuters, indicates that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified Honduras for the assistance, just two days after the apparently fraudulent election of Washington favorite Hernández.
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.
A new report from Amnesty International accuses the Nicaraguan government of "placing business before the future of the country and its people" with its inter-oceanic canal mega-scheme "that will affect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people and might leave many homeless." The report, Danger: Rights for sale, charges that "the obscure legal framework that led to the concession of the project, without genuine consultation with all affected communities, violates a catalogue of national and international standards on human rights and might lead to the forced eviction of hundreds of families." It also accuses authorities of harassing and persecuting opponents of the project. (Amnesty International, Aug. 3)