Posts tagged Guatemala
Posts tagged Guatemala
The road between the Guatemalan towns of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Quetzaltenango is guarded by a dozen thin, young, Mayan men in baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts, who mill around a truck parked across the road. “If you are from the mine,” the ringleader says, “you can’t come through.”
A mile or so away, the land falls away into a dust bowl, picked at by heavy machinery – the Marlin gold mine. All along the road, orange cliffs have collapsed onto the tarmac and the air is heavy with the stink of burnt clutches from the trucks that labour up the slope through the mountains, around 50km from Guatemala’s border with Mexico. The volcanic peaks are swaddled in gunsmoke drifts of cloud and patrolled by vultures; scattered settlements of adobe houses overlook a deep green patchwork of maize and coffee fields laid out across the ghosts of old Mayan terraces.
The Mayan Mam village of Agel hangs precariously over the edge of the pit. Crisanta Pérez’s house on the edge of the settlement clings to a steep slope that runs down to a long, turquoise tailings pond.
An intense, soft-spoken woman, “Doña Crisanta” is the figurehead of a peaceful resistance in San Miguel Ixtahuacán that has formed to protest the mine’s continued presence. Dubbed terrorists and enemies of progress by the state, the Frente de Defensa Miguelense is one of several Mayan-led protest groups across Guatemala that are facing down assassinations, detention and intimidation to stop their land becoming part of a continent-wide rush for resources.
“My family and I have been intimidated and criminalised,” Pérez says. “But I won’t give up. Who is going to do it, if not me?”
Pérez and her fellow community leaders say that the Marlin mine has contaminated the water sources that they use to wash and irrigate their crops and that the subterranean explosions have caused houses to collapse – charges that the mine’s owners, the Canadian firm Goldcorp, deny. Newsweek was shown evidence of skin conditions and severe neurological diseases that local health workers believe are the result of heavy metal poisoning, but, without independent medical assessment, their claims are hard to verify.
For the majority, the economic opportunities that the mine promised never materialised. Many, like the men manning the roadblock, sold their land and bought trucks, hoping to haul for the mine – their vehicles, daubed with religious icons, sit idle by the road. The Mayans’ anger goes deeper than individual grievances, however. The Mam, one of several Mayan nations in Guatemala, make up the majority in San Marcos. They number around 650,000 in the western highlands. On the other side of the mine, another nation, the Sipakapa, are also actively resisting the development. Both groups say that they were never consulted before work began on the pit, that their land was simply taken by a central government that does not represent them. This, they say, marks the continuation of centuries of marginalisation and discrimination – what rights they have won have proved secondary to the demands of commerce.
The Mam and Sipakapa see the mine, the government and private security firms as one entity that work together against them. “They have created a social monopoly. The mine comes to divide us, it causes conflict, psychological trauma, social repression,” says Rolando Cruz, a leader of the Movimiento de Resistencia Sipakapense, a resistance group in nearby San Isídro. “And they did not consult us.”
Téodora Hernandez was shot in the head and left blind in one eye by two men who came to ask her why she would not let a road pass through her land. Francisco Javier Hernandez Peréz, a leading voice opposing the development, was doused in petrol and set alight in 2011 by hooded men who identified themselves as supporters of the mine. His wife, Victoría Yóc, witnessed the attack; her neighbours heard her screaming across the mountains. Others have stories of near misses: Miguel Angél Bámaca, a health worker who has documented cases of suspected poisoning, was shot at in his home.The Mayans’ response has been escalating levels of protest and direct action. They have blocked roads, seized mine equipment and led demonstrations against company activities. Their campaign has been met with startling levels of violence.
Often, the violence is perpetrated by members of their own communities. The limited opportunities that the mine offers have created a powerful incentive for the few beneficiaries – Cruz calls them “traitors” – to crack down on dissent. The brutality has only hardened the resistance’s resolve.
“I’m never going to shut up,” says Victor Vicente Pérez, a Mam community leader. “I know I have the right to speak the truth … The [mineworkers] have tried to intimidate me with rumours that one day soon I’ll disappear, but I know I’m fighting for my rights and I’m willing to die for that.”
Marlin is one of over 100 metal mines currently operating in Guatemala. There are close to 350 active licences for exploration or production, with nearly 600 pending as the government, supported by the international financial institutions, promotes the sector as a way to raise revenues. Only 2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is based on mining, and the government hopes that the sector may offer a chance at rapid economic growth. Around 75% of the population lives below the poverty line. Infant and child mortality rates are high, and around 50% of children are malnourished.
Getty Images photographer John Moore has spent years covering stories about immigration between Mexico and the United States — border enforcement, drug smuggling, undocumented workers, and more. Earlier this year, he traveled south to the Mexico-Guatemala border, where Central American immigrants cross the Suchiate River, beginning their long and perilous journey north through Mexico. He traveled with some of the thousands of immigrants who ride atop freight trains, known as “la bestia,” or the Beast, toward the U.S. border. Riders on the Beast risk a great deal — robbery and assault by gangs who control the train tops, or the loss of life or limb in a fall. Only a fraction of the immigrants who start the journey in Central America will traverse Mexico completely unscathed — and all this before illegally entering the United States and facing the considerable U.S. border security apparatus designed to track, detain, and deport them. Moore has captured images not only of their difficult journey, but of the faces of these travelers, telling their stories through compelling portraits taken in shelters and jails along the way.
Maya Ixil women, including Guatemala’s civil war survivor Maria Raymundo (C), celebrate after listening the sentence given to former Guatemalan de facto President, retired General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, 86, for crimes committed during his regime, in Guatemala City on May 10, 2013. Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and war crimes on Friday in a landmark ruling stemming from massacres of indigenous people in his country’s long civil war. Rios Montt thus became the first Latin American convicted of trying to exterminate an entire group of people in a brief but particularly gruesome stretch of a war that started in 1960, lasted 36 years and left around 200,000 people dead or missing.
[Credit : Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images]
GUATEMALA CITY — She holds one of the most dangerous jobs in this spectacularly dangerous country, confronting the most feared and powerful men of the Guatemalan present: gang leaders; dirty public officials; shot-callers in the Mexican drug cartels who have bled in from the north.
She is also taking on the titans of Guatemala’s past: military men and security chiefs whom she has accused of human rights abuses during the nation’s brutal 35-year civil war. Guatemala’s emblematic 20th century strongman, Efrain Rios Montt, has been under house arrest since January, when her office charged him with genocide and crimes against humanity.
Claudia Paz y Paz, a 46-year-old former human rights lawyer, has served as attorney general since December 2010, earning a reputation as the most aggressive prosecutor the Central American nation has seen since the war’s end in the mid-1990s.
The challenges she faces are formidable: The Guatemalan homicide rate has roughly doubled in the last decade, because of ghastly cartel slayings in the countryside and a rise in crime, much of it gang-related, in and around Guatemala City, the capital.
Moreover, she inherited an office tarnished by scandal and a dismal conviction rate. Her critics, meanwhile, accuse her of re-fighting the civil war in the courts on behalf of the Guatemalan left, not administering justice, they say, so much as settling scores.
Pictured: Atty. Gen. Claudia Paz y Paz, seen in October, is taking on the titans of the Guatemalan past: military men and security chiefs whom she has accused of human rights abuses during the nation’s civil war. (Moises Castillo, Associated Press / October 11, 2012)
Guatemalan students protest over education reform
Dozens of people have been injured in Guatemala in clashes between police and students protesting against education reform in the capital, Guatemala City.
Among those injured are the ministers for education and the interior, who were caught up in the clashes .
The protesters, who are studying to become teachers, object to changes which would see the length of their university course increase.
President Otto Perez Molina has called a meeting to end the protests.
Under the new plans, university courses for students studying to become primary school teachers will go up from three to five years.
Protests against the measure began more than two months ago, and still no agreement has been reached.
Police said Monday’s clashes kicked off when the protesters confronted Education Minister Cynthia del Aguila.
Emergency workers said Ms del Aguila had a panic attack and fainted.
Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, who was at the scene of the clashes to command the anti-riot police, suffered an arm injured after an object was thrown by the students.
About 40 students were taken to hospital.
Pictured: Riot police were deployed during the clashes in the south of the city
Some Latin Leaders Want New Approach To Drug War
When President Obama travels to Colombia this weekend for the Summit of the Americas, he’ll be stepping into a vigorous debate about the drug war that could be awkward for the United States.
Some Latin American leaders, who also happen to be strong U.S. allies, say the American-sponsored war on drugs is failing and that new options need to be considered.
One proposal they want to discuss is legalizing some drugs — a move the U.S. strongly opposes.
Over the past four decades, the drug war has become increasingly bloody, and violence is now numbingly common across much of Central America and northern Mexico.
That’s prompting widespread disenchantment with the current approach –- which involves widespread prosecution of drug users and military-style tactics against drug gangs.
The campaign started with former President Richard Nixon, who said: “We must wage what I have called total war against Public Enemy No. 1 in the United States: the problem of dangerous drugs.”
Since then, that war has been taken to the drug cartels across the Americas, with heavy U.S. funding.
Looking For New Options
But now, some presidents, including Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, are asking if there isn’t another way.
Santos told NPR he’s putting the issue up for debate at the Summit of the Americas in the Colombian coastal city of Cartagena. Obama will be one of more than 30 leaders at the summit.
"It’s been the same approach and the same policies," Santos said. "And where are we? This is what we have to ask ourselves. Are we in the ideal place? Or should we at least contemplate alternatives?"
Santos is no critic of the United States. He’s one of Washington’s closest allies and a former defense minister known for his hawkish reputation on security issues.
And he’s not the only one proposing a new approach.
The most forceful proponent of that line has been Guatemalan President Otto Perez, a former military man who has fought traffickers for years.
After taking over the presidency earlier this year, Perez told NPR that he came to the conclusion that the drug war is failing. Drug trafficking has expanded and corruption has tainted government institutions, including the judicial system.
Pictured: Some Latin American leaders want to talk about the possibility of legalizing some drugs, a move the U.S. strongly opposes. Here, a Mexican soldier stands guard at a huge marijuana plantation that was uncovered in San Quintin, Baja California state, near the U.S. border, last year. Antonio Nava/AFP/Getty Images
'War on drugs' has failed, say Latin American leaders
Watershed summit will admit that prohibition has failed, and call for more nuanced and liberalised tactics
A historic meeting of Latin America’s leaders, to be attended by Barack Obama, will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found.
The Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia is being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favour of a more nuanced and liberalised approach.
Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country’s military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: “The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.”
Pérez Molina concedes that moving beyond prohibition is problematic. “To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?”
He insists, however, that prohibition has failed and an alternative system must be found. “Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalised, but within certain limits and conditions.”
The decision by Pérez Molina to speak out is seen as highly significant and not without political risk. Polls suggest the vast majority of Guatemalans oppose decriminalisation, but Pérez Molina’s comments are seen by many as helping to usher in a new era of debate. They will be studied closely by foreign policy experts who detect that Latin American leaders are shifting their stance on prohibition following decades of drugs wars that have left hundreds of thousands dead.
Pictured: Guatemala’s president Otto Perez Molina believes a new approach to Latin America’s war on drugs is urgently needed. Photograph: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images
Central American drug summit inconclusive
Three Central American presidents meeting in Guatemala to discuss overhauling drug laws to curb gang violence fail to arrive at a consensus. A follow-up will be held soon in Honduras.
Reporting from Bogota, Colombia, and San Salvador— A conclave of Central American presidents meeting in Guatemala to discuss a major overhaul of their drug laws — including legalization or decriminalization — failed to arrive at a consensus Saturday and agreed to meet again soon in Honduras.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina had invited five counterparts to discuss what he described as growing frustration with Washington’s anti-drug policy, which many in the region say is exacting too high a price in crime and corruption.
Some sort of policy declaration was expected after the meeting, yet at day’s end there was no reason given for its absence.
But a disappointing turnout may have been a factor: Panama’s Ricardo Martinelli and Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla attended; the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua stayed home.
Central America has experienced a surge in violent crime in recent years as it has become a favored transit route for cocaine and heroin processed in South America and moved north to consumers in the United States. Weak economies, democratic institutions and judicial systems have made the area fertile ground for drug gangs.
In an unprecedented move that reflects many leaders’ desire for a new approach to fighting drugs, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently put legalization and decriminalization of drugs on the agenda for discussion at next month’s Summit of the Americas. Thirty-four heads of state, including President Obama, are schedule to attend.
It apparently was Santos’ bold action that spurred Perez to attempt to forge a unified front with regional leaders in advance of the April summit.
The U.S. remains firmly opposed to liberalizing drug laws. Vice President Joe Biden said on a visit to Mexico this month that there was “no possibility” that the U.S. would support a move toward legalizing drugs.
In an interview with The Times last week, a U.S. counter-narcotics official said: “We looked at decriminalizing and legalizing, and it just doesn’t work for us.”
But Central American leaders increasingly protest that they are ill-equipped to contain powerful drug traffickers. While coca cultivation, cocaine trafficking and related violence have declined in Colombia, for which the U.S.-financed Plan Colombia anti-drug program is partly credited, crime is on the upswing in Central America.
Pictured: Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina waves during the summit with Central American leaders in Antigua. (Johan Ordonez, AFP/Getty Images / March 24, 2012)
Ex-paramilitaries jailed for Guatemala massacre
Five former members of right-wing Guatemalan paramilitaries have been sentenced to a total of 7,710 years in jail for their role in a 1982 massacre.
The men were charged with guiding the army to Plan de Sanchez, a rural community in northern Guatemala, and taking part in the ensuing massacre.
Many of the victims were women and children.
Nearly a quarter of a million people were killed in Guatemala’s civil war which ran from 1960 to 1996.
Judge Jazmin Barrios set a sentence of 30 years for each of the 256 victims of the former paramilitaries, plus 30 years for crimes against humanity.
However Judge Barrios said that the five men would only have to serve 50 years each - the maximum sentence allowed under Guatemalan law.
The massacre at Plan de Sanchez was one of 600 documented by a United Nations Truth Commission.
Pictured: The men will only serve 50 years each, the maximum allowed by Guatemalan law
Guatemala Dos Erres massacre soldier given 6,060 years
A court in Guatemala has sentenced a former soldier to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the massacre of 201 people during the civil war.
Pedro Pimentel Rios, 55, was extradited from the US last year.
He is the fifth former soldier to be convicted for the killings in the village of Dos Erres in 1982.
The sentence is largely symbolic as the maximum actual term is 50 years but it comes amid renewed moves to try those implicated in civil war atrocities.
The massacre at Dos Erres was one of the most violent episodes in Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil conflict.
A special unit of the Guatemalan army known as the Kaibiles stormed the village where they suspected residents were supporting or sheltering left-wing guerrillas.
Over three days, the soldiers systematically killed hundreds of men, women and children, shooting or bludgeoning them to death and throwing bodies down a well.
Pimentel had lived in California for many years before being arrested in 2010, and extradited to Guatemala the following year.
He denied any involvement in the massacre.
Pimentel was sentenced to 30 years for each death and another 30 years for crimes against humanity.
Last year, four other soldiers were also convicted of the Dos Erres massacre and given similar sentences.
Pictured: Pimentel was involved in one of the most shocking episodes of the civil war
Rural communities in Guatemala are using new technologies to wring water out of the air. It is called fog harvesting and it helps to overcome water shortages. Despite the lush appearances for nearly six months out of the year, Tojquia only gets a tiny amount of rainfall, making it extremely difficult to grow crops and find enough drinking water. However, that is starting to change for the indigenous Mayan communities in Tojquia who are partnering with a Canadian NGO to try and harvest the fog so that they can have drinking water year round. This low-tech and affordable technology is now being used in several countries around the world including Chile, Nepal and Yemen. The hope is that it will greatly improve the quality of life for locals and, one day, millions of others. Al Jazeera’s Rachel Levin travelled to Tojquia to see how it works.
Rural communities in Guatemala are using new technologies to wring water out of the air. It is called fog harvesting and it helps to overcome water shortages.
Despite the lush appearances for nearly six months out of the year, Tojquia only gets a tiny amount of rainfall, making it extremely difficult to grow crops and find enough drinking water.
However, that is starting to change for the indigenous Mayan communities in Tojquia who are partnering with a Canadian NGO to try and harvest the fog so that they can have drinking water year round.
This low-tech and affordable technology is now being used in several countries around the world including Chile, Nepal and Yemen. The hope is that it will greatly improve the quality of life for locals and, one day, millions of others.
Al Jazeera’s Rachel Levin travelled to Tojquia to see how it works.
24 Hours in Pictures, 17 February 2012
San Juan Atitán, Guatemala: a man speaks with a girl who will be weighed and measured at a health centre. Guatemala’s president, Otto Pérez Molina, has launched a nationwide campaign against malnutrition, called Zero Hunger
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Many sectors of the global economy may be struggling in the recession, but precious metals remain a valuable commodity.
Over the last 10 years, the price of gold has risen sharply, peaking at $1,921 an ounce in September and now hovering around $1,730 an ounce.
In the first of a four-part series on how people are taking extreme measures to get their hands on precious metals, Al Jazeera takes a look at Guatemalans who are braving dangerous conditions to search for gold.
David Mercer reports from Guatemala City, the capital.
REPORTING FROM SAN SALVADOR — Efrain Rios Montt, the former dictator of Guatemala who oversaw one of the nation’s bloodiest periods, will stand trial on genocide charges and other crimes stemming from a 36-year civil war.
Photo: Relatives of massacre victims from the Mayan Ixil ethnic group gather in a Guatemala City courthouse on Thursday to hear charges against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Credit: Moises Castillo / Associated Press