Urgent: Indigenous Communities Attacked, Opposition Leaders Arrested as Biden Administration Increases Military and Natural Resource Extraction Efforts in Guatemala

Guatemala Solidarity Project Quarterly Report, July 5, 2021

The Guatemala Solidarity Project strongly condemns the Guatemalan government’s escalation of repression coinciding with US Vice President Kamala Harris visit to the country in June.  Just in recent weeks dozens of indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in our network have been brought to trial on false charges, and multiple indigenous communities have been violently evicted.  In an earlier attack at least eight community members were shot in the back, with no one being held accountable for the violence.

We request that concerned people in the US call their members of congress to demand that the US government immediately end all support for energy projects that contribute to environmental damage, violate labor laws and disregard indigenous land rights.  Please also call for an end to US support for the Guatemalan military and police.  Details on this request are at the end of this report.

We also request that you consider donating to support our partners.  All donations go directly to our partners and no funds are kept by GSP for overhead or any other purpose. You can donate via our website or by writing a check to UPAVIM and mailing it to UPAVIM, PO Box 63, Marshfield, VT 05658.  You can also donate via Venmo @SolidarityGuate  We thank our fiscal sponsor, the volunteer-run UPAVIM Community Development Foundation, a US 501(c)3 non-profit tax-deductible organization, for supporting us and ensuring that all funds go to our partners in Guatemala.

This quarterly report includes updates on just some of the areas we are working.  GSP volunteers are working to expand our social media presence, so to stay informed and help us get the word out please follow us on facebook (GuatemalaSolidarityProject), instagram (GuatemalaSolidarityProject) and twitter (@SolidarityGuate).

Eight People Shot in Back During Attack on Indigenous Community

GSP health team takes pictures of injured community members while providing medical care

On May 9, GSP partner community Cubilguitz faced a violent attack when attempting to plant corn on their fields as they have for generations.  At least eight people were shot in the back, and many others were injured.

The attack was a result of the government’s refusal to recognize the land rights of indigenous communities.  The community is surrounded by large rubber and coffee plantations that have worked with corrupt judges and government officials to repress local indigenous populations.

With the support of our donors we will continue to stand with Cubilguitz and when possible support medical needs resulting from such attacks.

Mobile Schools Continue, but Urgently Need Support

Recent picture and video from mobile schools

The GSP continues to operate our mobile schools program, bringing access to primary education to hundreds of children in indigenous communities facing discrimination from the government.  Our partners believe that education is fundamental.  Because the government systematically denies school access to indigenous communities, our partners have directed us to run a mobile school program so that more communities will benefit.  This means that each participating community receives classes for only one week per month, which is not sufficient.  However our partners have this preference so that more communities can benefit.

Because of continued COVID-related fundraising struggles, we have had to significantly scale back the mobile school program.  Our teachers are working hard under extremely difficult conditions with very limited resources.  Please consider a donation of any size so that the mobile schools can not only continue but also expand to additional communities.

US Military Vehicles Used in Attacks Against Indigenous Communities as Biden Administration Announces Increased Military Aid to Guatemala

Police gather near the indigenous community Canaan on June 16, 2021

On June 16, thousands of Guatemalan police and soldiers used US-donated artillery Jeeps to forcefully displace indigenous q’eqchi’ families from their homes in the community Canaán in northeast Guatemala.  Unfortunately attacks against indigenous communities to facilitate the theft of natural resources are common.  However there were two characteristics of this attack that made it particularly cruel.

One was the use of US donated military vehicles.  Just one week earlier VP Harris had visited the country, claiming the reason for her visit was to address the root causes of migration.  At the same time she announced increased military cooperation with the government.  The primary purpose of the Guatemalan military has consistently been to steal from and repress indigenous communities.  Please go to the end of this report for suggested actions you can take to oppose US military cooperation with Guatemala.  Violently evicting people from their homes obviously does not reduce migration.

A second especially cruel characteristic of the attack is that it occurred shortly after the government declared the area around Canaán “code red” because of exceptionally high levels of COVID infection.  The US-backed forced displacement of indigenous communities will only lead to increased COVID infections, suffering and death.

Genocide Survivors Beaten and Arrested at Nonviolent Protest

Several Chicoyogüito community leaders brought to court in the back of a police pickup truck

On June 9, Guatemalan police attacked a peaceful protest led by members of the indigenous community Chicoyogüito, beating protestors and arresting 21 members of the community.

The GSP has been accompanying the community as they organize for the return of their lands.  In July of 1968 the community was violently evicted by the Guatemalan military, and their land was converted into a military base that coordinated US-backed torture and massacres of civilians.  In recent years hundreds of bodies of civilians murdered by the military have been exhumed from clandestine graves at the base.

The GSP will continue to accompany the community as they organize for their land rights, but because of COVID-related funding shortages we are unable to directly support the community leaders in prison.  Ordinarily we commit to visiting political prisoners from our partner communities at least once a month, bringing them food, clothes, medicine and other necessities.  Political prisoners routinely face violence, torture, denial of food and denial of medicine.  Please consider making a contribution of any size to the GSP so that we can continue to stand with political prisoners in Guatemala.

Kamala Harris Visits Guatemala, Announces Military Agreements and Increased Exploitation of Natural Resources

On June 6, Kamala Harris visited Guatemala in her first international trip as Vice President.  The GSP and hundreds of organizations in our network had spent months meeting with government officials to try to convince them to end US support for the repression of indigenous communities and violent theft of natural resources from indigenous lands.  Unfortunately, the Biden/Harris administration has decided to try to expand the looting of indigenous territory and their collaboration with Guatemala’s corrupt security forces.

Harris met with Guatemala’s corrupt president Alejandro Giammattei, who has faced months of protests in the country calling for him to step down.  Before becoming president, Giammattei had been in prison for his alleged role in the massacre of witnesses in a government corruption case.  Instead of pressuring Giammattei to respect human rights and the law, Harris announced new military and police agreements with the government.

Perhaps even more troubling was the fact that Harris said she was prioritizing collaborating with the CEOs of the largest US corporations.  She stated the need to maximize profit from Guatemala’s vast natural resources, and how US companies had not fully taken advantage of the opportunity.

Until recently, Guatemala was considered by many experts to be a carbon-negative country because its extensive rainforests sequestered a significant amount of carbon.  But Guatemala has shifted to carbon-positive as multinational corporations fuel large scale logging, mining, monoculture and other environmentally destructive industries.  The Guatemalan government has used systematic violence to displace indigenous communities in order to steal their natural resources.

Indigenous movements have been demanding the government recognize indigenous rights under international and national law, and there was some hope that the Biden administration would shift policy from the Trump administration.  Biden certainly has used more respectful language than Trump, but at the same time is looking to increase military assistance and environmental exploitation.

There is still time to impact this policy!  US congress is expected to vote on major foreign spending bills in the coming weeks, and many members of congress have expressed their opposition to the repression and looting of indigenous communities in Guatemala.  GSP volunteers are working hard to organize in congress, but we need you to join us.  Details on how to get involved are at the end of this report.

Foppa and Other Leading Opposition Figures Arrested

On March 19, 2021, the Guatemalan government arrested leading anti-corruption activists including Juan Francisco Solorzano Foppa.  Foppa, as he is commonly known as in Guatemala, was stopped by nonpolice vehicles that had no license plates and later told that he and 15 others had arrest warrants related to their creation last year of the Guatemalan Environmentalist Political Party.  Another prominent leader arrested on March 19 was Aníbal Mayen, a former analyst with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala and an activist with the Environmentalist Party.

Foppa is perhaps most famous in Guatemala for his successful work against government corruption.  He played a lead role in the investigation and arrest of former President and General Otto Perez Molina.  He also helped form Guatemala’s anti-impunity unit (Fiscalía Especializada Contra la Impunidad – FECI), the leading institution fighting against Guatemala’s severe corruption.  As head of Guatemala’s internal revenue service, Foppa was fired by notoriously corrupt President Jimmy Morales after Foppa exposed massive tax evasion by natural resource extraction companies.

Foppa is also well known because of his family’s historic leadership in combatting Guatemala’s genocidal dictators of the 1970s and 1980s.  His father played a lead role in this struggle, and was assassinated when Foppa was just two weeks old.  His grandmother Alaíde Foppa was an internationally known poet, feminist and human rights activist who was detained by the Guatemalan government in December 1980 and never seen again.  It is presumed that she was tortured and murdered.

Foppa was considered a leading potential opposition candidate to the “Pacto de Corruptos” or “Corrupt Covenant,” which includes President Alejandro Giammattei and dozens of members of congress.  This group created arrest warrants on fraudulent charges against leading opposition figures before the 2019 elections and appear to be preparing the same strategy in order to stay in power.

Many national and international leaders denounced the arrests.  “Solidarity with Aníbal Arguello (Mayen) and Juan Francisco Solorzano Foppa,” stated Ivan Velasquez Gomez, former head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.  “They are persecuted in Guatemala for their significant role in the struggle against corruption.  The corrupt use ‘the justice system’ to satisfy their revenge.”

Foppa was released on June 12 after spending nearly a month in prison despite the blatantly political nature of the charges.  While the charges are a clear attempt to silence and intimidate him, Foppa has made it known that he will continue to work for justice.

“Being in prison made me more conscience of the need for everyone to contribute something and unite,” Foppa said shortly after leaving prison.  “That is the only way we will be able to have a better Guatemala.”

Bernardo Caal Remains in Prison Despite Evidence of His Innocence

Indigenous Q’eqchi’ teacher, environmentalist and human rights defender Bernardo Caal was arrested on January 30, 2018, after registering as the lead complainant in a series of injunctions against the illegal construction of hydroelectric dams in Q’eqchi’ territory. He was later sentenced to seven years and four months in prison for allegedly leading violent protests against the dams, although no evidence was presented to support this allegation.  The government has made no attempt to hold anyone responsible for the illegal construction of the dams or related violence against indigenous communities in the area.  To the contrary, the government has continued to violently attack indigenous communities in order to expand hydroelectric dams and other resource extraction projects.

Caal appealed the sentence on the basis of evidence that he was in another city at the same time he was allegedly leading a violent protest.  According to Amnesty International, “having reviewed the ongoing criminal proceedings against Bernardo Caal, it’s clear that there’s no evidence of the crimes that he’s accused of.”

The Supreme Court recently heard Caal’s appeal on June 21, after the government was able to suspend the hearing for months.  The court is expected to announce their ruling by July 12.

The GSP and our allies have been requesting that US Ambassador to Guatemala William Popp attend Caal’s hearings and call for his release.  Popp has refused to do so, instead visiting a military base in Huehuetenango, Guatemala to help coordinate repression of indigenous communities during one of Caal’s recent hearings.

We will continue to visit Caal in prison regularly and coordinate with our allies in Guatemala and internationally to pressure for his release.  We ask concerned people in the US to call their members of congress and ask them to request that Ambassador Popp attend Caal’s hearings and call for his release from prison.

Take Action: Join the GSP and Our Partners in Saying No More US Support for the Looting of Indigenous Territory!

The GSP has united with School of the Americas Watch, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, and dozens of other international solidarity organizations in a campaign to pressure US Congress to stop funding repression and environmental destruction in Guatemala.

In the coming weeks, first the congressional appropriations’ committees and then congress as a whole are expected to vote on the US government’s foreign spending budget for the next year.  This includes military and police assistance as well as support for mining, logging and other resource extraction projects.

A growing number of members of congress have expressed their opposition to the repression and looting of indigenous communities in Guatemala.  In a recent letter to her colleagues, Representative Ilhan Omar wrote “We must recognize that the migration crisis from Central America is above all a foreign policy problem, and send a clear message that the United States stands with the people of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras and not with the police and military that are systematically violating their human rights with impunity.”

It is important that the transition from Trump to Biden include actual policy changes.  It is not enough to go from an openly racist president who supports genocidal policies to a polite president who supports genocidal policies.  We need to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the changes in US government to demand an end to the systematic repression of indigenous people in Guatemala.

We are meeting with dozens of members of congress, and we need your help.  Call your members of congress, and also contact us at info@guatemalasolidarityproject.org to let us know who you have contacted so we can follow up.

Sample script:  “My name is ____________ and I am calling to request that my member of congress oppose all US assistance to the Guatemalan military and police.  Such resources are being used in Guatemala against indigenous civilians and we must no longer support this violence.  I also request that my member of congress oppose all financial assistance to energy and infrastructure projects that contribute to environmental damage and disregard indigenous land rights.  For too long the US government has supported the profit motives of a few wealthy shareholders while violently driving indigenous people off of their lands, often so they have no choice but to flee to the US.  Please let me know how you vote on these important issues.”

If you want to be more specific, below is some of the exact language that we are supporting and know has been proposed by some members of congress for the upcoming foreign spending legislation:

“None of the funds appropriated by this Act for Central America may be used to finance infrastructure or energy projects that contribute to environmental damage, violate labor laws, disregard community land rights (including ancestral Indigenous land rights), are opposed by local residents, and/or increase private sector participation in the delivery of essential public services such as water, electricity, education, and health care”

“None of the funds appropriated by this Act for Central America under the heading Development Assistance or Economic Support Fund may be used to promote or incentivize private-public partnership initiatives that may lead to the privatization of public services and natural resources”

“Within 90 (or 120?) days the Agency must report to the relevant Congressional Committees regarding how U.S. Development Assistance and Economic Support Funds provided to Central American countries, from FY2015-FY2021, were used or are being used to promote infrastructure or energy projects and whether these projects violated labor rights or Indigenous and other community land rights, have resulted in environmental damage or have limited local community’s access to essential public services like water or electricity.”

“None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ”Foreign Military Financing Program” may be made available for assistance for El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.”

“None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ”International Military Education and Training” may be made available for assistance for El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.”

“None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ”International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement” may be made available for military assistance or police assistance for El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.”