GSP Quarterly Report
September 8, 2015
Corrupt military president arrested, Guatemalan people rejoice
The United States government continues to support genocidal repression and environmental destruction in Guatemala despite the arrest of President Otto Perez Molina. As a result most children in our partner communities suffer from hunger while one of the world’s most heavily forested countries is converted into a major emitter of carbon dioxide.
Please make an urgently needed donation. All contributions go to our partner communities in Guatemala, and are tax deductible in the US. Other suggested actions are listed below.
On September 3, General Perez was arrested in an historic victory of the people of Guatemala. The arrest followed sustained nonviolent protests that began in April. Students, unions, peasants and other people of conscience took to the streets and caused the Vice President and numerous cabinet members to step down. Our partner organizations and communities played a lead role in these mobilizations. As his government collapsed around him, Perez refused to resign. He held on to power in large part because of support from the US embassy. Perez is a graduate of the infamous US Army School of the Americas, which has graduated more dictators than any other institution on the planet. Eventually even his military connections and US support was not enough for him to stay in power – today the former President is now sitting in a jail cell.
While this represents an enormous accomplishment for Guatemala’s emerging peaceful civil society, it will ultimately mean nothing if further advances aren’t made. The GSP has been calling for Perez’s arrest since before he even became President in 2012. General Perez directly ordered the torture and assassination of indigenous Guatemalan civilians beginning in the 1980s. According to court testimony, his order was “Indian seen, Indian killed.” It is telling that Perez is not in prison for torture, murder, or genocide. Instead he was arrested for corruption. Perez is now the second of the last four Guatemalan Presidents (along with Alfonso Portillo, who fled the country the same day he left office but was eventually arrested and spent 6 years in federal prison in the U.S. In a demonstration of how little has changed in Guatemala, Portillo ran for office and will return to Congress for the 2016 session.) Government corruption is a huge problem that must be dealt with and these arrests appear to be a step forward in this fight. But an even bigger problem is the lack of fundamental structural changes – like those mapped out in the 1996 Peace Accords, signed by this Otto Perez as a military leader, ignored by him as President. Celebration is difficult as long as Guatemala’s Presidents continue to get away with massacring indigenous civilians.
The most important fact to keep in mind is that he was but a role player in the militarized socioeconomic structure designed to pillage Guatemala’s majority indigenous population and vast natural resources. Despite his arrest, this structure remains very much intact. Guatemala’s exaggeratedly corrupt Congress voted 132-0 to allow the President’s arrest. Even CACIF, Guatemala’s powerful and influential chamber of commerce, supported the vote. CACIF and Guatemala’s Congress are key supporters of the country’s genocidal repression and environmental destruction. They backed Perez’s arrest because they knew five centuries of genocide can continue with or without a man who has been President for less than four years. They also knew that waiting in line to become President was a man with an even longer commitment to genocidal violence.
Guatemala’s interim President is Alejandro Maldonado. Maldonado was not elected by the people but was instead voted in by Congress. Maldonado is a fascist leader who has been a close US ally for decades. From 1944-1954 Guatemala enjoyed a short period of democracy in which forced labor laws against indigenous people were outlawed and other basic steps were taken toward civilization. The US strongly opposed these democratic reforms because US corporations and US officials, such as the Dulles brothers, were earning huge profits from Guatemala’s cheap and often free labor. The CIA led an attempt to end democracy in Guatemala, culminating in 1954 with the US Air Force’s bombing of Guatemala City.
After the bombing of Guatemala City the US put in place a military dictatorship that basically continues today. After the 1954 bombing the US worked closely with the MLN, or “National Liberation Movement,” to form death squads that tortured and murdered thousands of civilians who supported democracy. New President Maldonado was a member of the MLN and became a Congressman with the party in 1966. From 1970-1974 he was part of the cabinet of “the butcher of Zacapa,” dictator Carlos Arana. In 1974 when new dictator General Laugerud Garcia needed to make his government appear legitimate despite widespread repression he named Maldonado to be Ambassador to the United Nations. Maldonado was also ambassador to the United Nations for dictator Romeo Lucas Garcia, who started the “scorched earth policy” of indiscriminately murdering indigenous civilians and burning down entire villages. In 1985 Maldonado was one of the delegates who wrote Guatemala’s new right-wing constitution. He then spent decades on Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country. As a Constitution Court Judge he led numerous extreme decisions in favor of the country’s military and economic elite. Perhaps the most famous of these was his 2013 ruling to overturn ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt’s conviction of genocide for massacres against indigenous civilians.
We congratulate the people of Guatemala for forcing the resignation and arrest of now ex-President Otto Perez Molina. This significant achievement took an enormous amount of organizing, discipline, sacrifice and risks. However we and our partners in Guatemalan know that there is a very long way to go.
Record turn-out in first round of presidential voting, is joke on Guatemalan people?
As you may already know Guatemala held its once-every-four-years, pseudo-democratic elections on Sunday Sept. 6th. At the presidential level, the big surprise is that Manuel Baldizon did not qualify in the top two and thus is out of the run-off. This is in of itself is a victory for progressive forces, as Baldizon finished 2nd in 2011 and this breaks a string of five consecutive elections in which the second-place finisher won the presidential election the following cycle, which demonstrates how controlled and predictable Guatemalan presidential elections have become. Baldizon had support from both the economic and military elite, and possessed a personal fortune deriving from his economic activities in the Peten – for example he is the owner of the only luxury bus service in the northern part of Guatemala, which just happens to be one of the primary areas used for drug trans-shipment.
So are the options for President any more hopeful than the obviously corrupt and pro-business Baldizon? Option 1 is Jimmy Morales, a professional comedian (google “Nito and Neto” Jimmy is Neto) and business owner. After losing a Mayoral race in 2011 in his first venture into politics, Morales was asked by the founders of the party National Convergence Front to be their presidential candidate. Morales was seen by these founders as a great representative since he is seen as a political outsider. Unfortunately, the people behind the candidate represent the same oppressive military and economic interests – the FCN was founded by retired military officers led by Edgar Justino Ovalle (School of the Americas graduate, 1973) who was a prominent intelligence officer and worked alongside Otto Perez in the Ixil region from 1981-1982, at the height of the genocide. Ovalle was elected to Congress on Sunday, so Morales, who identifies himself as a conservative, does not present a hopeful choice for change.
The second option is Sandra Torres, former wife of former President Alvaro Colom, who’s supposedly “Social Democratic” presidency from 2008-2012 did little to address social injustice and oppression. Many people view Sandra Torres as another power-hungry politician, as she divorced her husband in 2012 in an attempt to avoid Guatemala’s ban on relatives of Presidents being eligible for candidacy. She was declared ineligible in 2011 but was able to run in 2015.
Some good news: GSP allies in the Xinka community in Xelapan, Jalapa finished 2nd in the Mayoral race, thus giving the Xinka people representation on the Municipal council, as the 2nd place finish gives the URNG two automatic seats. To our knowledge, this is the first time in history that Xinka leaders have served in municipal leadership. This is a crucial time for the community as they are fighting the oppression resulting from the opening of the Escobal mine in San Rafeal los Flores, a neighboring community. Tahoe Resources opened this mine in 2014 and it has already become the world’s 2nd largest silver mine, having mined over 20 million ounces of silver in its first year of operations. GSP will be sending out more information about this struggle soon.
Below are three actions we are requesting people take in solidarity with the people of Guatemala. First we want to update some of the work we have been involved in during the previous quarter:
Updates on ongoing situations
Timoteo Chen Tun is Free! (Sort of)
Thanks in part to the GSP and all of you who took action, former political prisoner Timoteo Chen was released in August after spending over a year in jail. Chen had been charged with murder even though there were dozens of witnesses and even photographic evidence that he was not at the scene of the crime. Chen’s real “crime” is being an environmental and indigenous rights activist.
Chen was arrested in April 2014 while participating in a healthcare workshop. Chen was one of the few healthcare providers in the primarily indigenous q’eqchi’ region he is from. His unjust incarceration had a negative impact on the region’s health. It was also marked by repeated delays on technicalities by the prosecution, a strategy that successfully kept him suffering in jail for over a year despite a total lack of evidence that he had committed any crime.
The GSP visited Chen in prison at least once a month, supporting him by purchasing food, shoes, and other basic necessities. We organized petition and call-in campaigns to pressure for his release. Chen, his family, the indigenous peasant movement and our organization are all joyous that he is no longer behind bars. However the public prosecution quickly reacted to his release by inventing new charges against him and issuing an order for his arrest. Chen remains out of jail but faces a hearing on September 24. We ask you to monitor our website as we will be calling for further action in solidarity with Chen in the coming weeks.
Q’eqchi’ Communities Avoid Attacks in the Polochic Valley, Receive Water Filters from the GSP
Earlier this summer the GSP delivered water filters to the indigenous q’eqchi’ communities Bella Flor, Rio Frio, Parana, San Miguel Cotoxja, El Rodeo, 8 de Agosto and Rio Polochic II. These communities are located in the Polochic Valley in northeastern Guatemala. Most children in these communities suffer from chronic malnutrition. The Guatemalan and US governments do not want the fertile valley to be used to grow food for the indigenous families that have lived there for centuries. The corporate owners of these murderous governments can make more money growing biofuels and selling them to car owners. Filling an indigenous child’s belly is not considered as important as making money filling a gas tank.
In 2011 the Guatemalan government sent military and police to burn down the homes and crops of thousands of q’eqchi’ civilians in the valley. As a result we have seen people from these communities die of starvation. More commonly children have suffered the serious consequences of chronic malnutrition, which include stunted brain development and greater vulnerability to infection and disease. It is disgusting and unacceptable that this is happening in a valley where the soil is so rich and there is no reason for a lack of food.
In the years since these attacks communities organized to demand their basic rights. They have faced repeated government lies and violent attacks, including grenades being thrown from helicopters. This year hundreds of families came together and reoccupied some of what had been their land. Because of their high level of organization and the precarious state of the government after months of sustained protest, they remain on the land today.
The communities continue to struggle with hunger because they have a small amount of land, have had little time to establish themselves and have little resources to work with because of previous attacks and thefts. Children are particularly vulnerable. They are not taking in enough vitamins and nutrients, and also have not had access to clean water. Amoebas and parasites from dirty water cause significantly greater harm to children in the communities.
We are happy to have been able to deliver dozens of water filters to the communities thanks to the support of GSP donors. We recognize that this is not a long term solution. The communities need to be given back all of their land, political prisoners must be released and the government must end its violent repression of community leaders. We will continue to support the communities in achieving these goals. Meanwhile people are starving to death. The water filters we delivered will help, but they were not enough. Please make a contribution now so that we can help ensure each child has access to clean water.
Martin Pec Denied Surgery
Martin Pec is a highly respected community leader from Parana, one of the Polochic Valley communities attacked and evicted by the Guatemalan military in March of 2011. After the attacks his community built small huts by the side of the road close to where they used to live. They no longer had land to grow crops and were suffering from extreme hunger. Pec and other q’eqchi’ leaders organized with other communities in the area to denounce the government’s violence and theft of their lands.
In the middle of the night of August 9, 2011, dozens of heavily armed masked men attacked the community. They burned down homes, clothes and harvested corn. Three community members were shot, including an 8 year old girl. Pec was shot in the stomach and brought to an intensive care hospital unit. Instead of being given quality care, he was arrested on false charges while in his hospital bed and transferred to jail. He was released from jail weeks later, but not given quality health care. Years later Pec has little energy, needs to use a colostomy bag and is still trying to access a doctor.
The GSP has met with hospital officials in Coban, and numerous other organizations have demanded that he be treated. On August 28 Pec was scheduled to have surgery, but once again the hospital denied him care. We will continue to pressure the hospital and government. Please look for further action alerts about his case in the coming weeks.
The Guatemala Solidarity Project urgently requests that you take the following actions:
- Make a tax-deductible donation to our partners
Please consider making a donation of any size to the GSP via our website www.GuatemalaSolidarityProject.org We are a volunteer-run organization, and all funds go directly to our partners in Guatemala. Donations are tax-deductible in the US.
An important effort that we continue to be dedicated to is support for political prisoners. These are indigenous leaders who are in prison because of their nonviolent activism in support of indigenous and environmental rights. Prisoners have faced torture, denial of food and denial of medicine. The GSP visits political prisoners at least once a month and supports critical needs such as food, clothes and medicine. Among the political prisoners we currently support are:
- Pablo Sacrab Pop was arrested on December 28, 2010 and is completing his fifth difficult year of prison in Coban. His crime was being a community leader with the Committee of Peasant Unity and participating in nonviolent demonstrations supporting the land rights of indigenous q’eqchi’ communities;
- Manuel Bol was arrested in March 2011 during the military and police attacks against q’eqchi’ communities in the Polochic Valley. Despite significant national and international condemnation of the attacks, including a ruling in favor of the communities by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Bol remains in prison more than five years later;
- Agustin Dias and Timoteo Suchite were sentenced to 25 years in prison on July 1, 2015. Both are indigenous Chorti leaders from the town Las Flores de Jocotan and are in jail for organizing nonviolent protests in defense of the river Juipilingo. Dias has four young children who, like many of the family members of political prisoners, are in a life or death struggle against hunger while their father is unjustly imprisoned.
These are not the only political prisoners we are supporting nor the only areas that urgently need your support. We follow the lead of our partners, who have also prioritized emergency support for communities after government and paramilitary attacks. This includes support for the medical costs of community leader Carlos Guitz who was shot in the back by greedy land “owners” and a monthly support for the children of longtime Ixil community organizer Juana Sanchez who was raped and murdered. We have supported the construction of three schools but have delayed the construction of a fourth school because of the growing need of emergency support resulting from increased repression.
- Mobilize to Shut Down the School of the Americas
Jailed former President and former General Otto Perez Molina is not the only graduate of the US Army School of the Americas to play a lead role in the Guatemalan genocide. Unfortunately, all of the most murderous officials in recent decades attended the SOA. The worst period of the genocide is often recognized as being the late 1970s and early 1980s under the dictatorships of Romeo Lucas Garcia and Efrain Rios Mont. Both were graduates of the SOA and known for implementing a “scorched earth policy” against indigenous civilians. The primary operational leaders of this strategy at first were Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas Garcia and Minister of Defense Anibel Guevara, both of whom not only attended the SOA but also returned later as instructors. Hector Montalban and Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas headed the D-2, Guatemala’s intelligence agency, during the scorched earth policy. They targeted civilians who supported an increased minimum wage and other basic reforms for torture and murder. Both were graduates of the SOA.
The list of notorious SOA grads is too long to continue here, but the most dangerous fact is this: right now Guatemalan soldiers continue to train at the SOA. They are not training to defend Guatemala’s people and sovereignty from foreign attack. They are training to repress Guatemala’s people and make it easier for corporations to exploit the people and environment of Guatemala.
Please consider joining the GSP and thousands of activists as we protest the SOA in Columbus, GA this November 20-22. For more information about this and other strategies to close the SOA please visit www.soaw.org
- Join the GSP Action Alert list and Take Action!
Making a phone call or signing a petition may not seem like much, but the GSP and our partners have seen how such actions can make a real impact on the ground. When a community is attacked or an indigenous leader is imprisoned, it is important that we mobilize a response as soon as possible. Sending a letter won’t cause a nonviolent revolution in Guatemala. But it may put the government on notice so that they don’t torture a community leader they have just arrested or murder civilians in a town they have just attacked.
To sign up for our Action Alert list, which is separate from our Quarterly Report list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Add to Action Alert list.”