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January 15 2014

4 Arrested after White Powder Attack on Guatemalan Vice President

Roxana_Baldetti

Picture by Surizar under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Four university students were arrested in Guatemala City after one of them threw an unidentified white powder at Vice President Roxana Baldetti as she was leaving the National Theater, where President Otto Perez Molina delivered his state of the union address.

Prensa Libre shared a video of the incident on YouTube:

The media immediately searched for social media profiles of the students involved, releasing pictures and information [es] about their political affiliations and current academic institutions.

Meanwhile, rather than cause outrage or solidarity for the Vice President or the students, the incident sparked suggestive comments among the Guatemalan Twitter community, as “polvo” (the Spanish word for powder) has a sexual connotation, meaning a one night stand.

Twitter users also joked about the harmless nature of the attack and at the authorities’ overreaction, as the students might be charged with attempting to assassinate the President, a crime that could send them to prison for fifteen years if found guilty.

Roxana Baldetti without flour / with flour

Others suggested that the Vice President should be nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars or even open her own acting company:

Baldetti should found an acting school

In one of her first declarations, the woman accused of the attack said she didn't do it because she wanted to become famous, but rather to exercise her freedom of expression and dissent. She wasn't treated seriously by Guatemalan Twitter users either, who modified a photo saying “I did it because I wanted to appear on Twitter searches”

Other statements by Sayra Cristal Cottom Florián, who threw the white powder at the Vice President, Roxana Baldetti.

The government reported that the incident was condemned by a diverse range of people. However, the general feeling is that if anyone does anything against the people in power, he or she will face terrible consequences and a display of force, as journalist José Ruben Zamora suffered a few weeks ago when he was barred from leaving the country and had his assets frozen after the President sued him for “coercion, extortion, blackmail, violating the Constitution, and contempt,” as reported by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. If the target of a prosecution is someone in power, however, different rules seem to apply, as the world learned after the verdict against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt was declared void and the trial rescheduled for 2015.

Regardless of who carried out the act and the reasons behind it, the reactions expressed by Guatemalans show a decline in support [es] for the government, a loss in government credibility, and a growing healthy skepticism regarding the government's achievements in their two years in power.

December 16 2013

PHOTOS: Remains of Exhumed War Victims Returned to Families in Guatemala

Isabela Ja (forefront) and her husband Celso Chiquin, smile after receiving the skeletal remains of their son Baldomero Chiquin Ja. Photo by James Rodriguez, used with permission.

Isabela Ja (forefront) and her husband Celso Chiquin, smile after receiving the skeletal remains of their son Baldomero Chiquin Ja. Photo by James Rodriguez, used with permission.

In a new photo essay on MiMundo.org, photojournalist James Rodríguez follows residents of Pambach, Guatemala, as they receive the skeletal remains of six wartime victims who were “taken by the army after a military incursion to the village on June 3rd, 1982, during the de facto government of Efraín Ríos Montt, and were never seen again.”

The victims were exhumed from a mass grave in May 2012 and returned to their families on November 22, 2013.

December 05 2013

Indigenous Guatemalan Q'eqchi Community Faces Ongoing Violations of Their Land and Human Rights

The threatening, violation and denial of the undeniable rights the Q'eqchi [indigenous Maya community] have over the land they acquired by their own means so many years ago, together with the stunning violation of basic human rights by evidence of abuse of force, not possibly rested on legal means, are unacceptable crimes and require immediate counteraction by the international community.

On the website Intercontinental Cry, Juliana Maria Soares writes about the ongoing attacks on the Q’eqchi community Saquimo Setana of Coban in central Guatamala. These attacks, “including arson of houses, physical attacks on community members and the arrest of community leaders under false charges,” were reported by the Guatemala Solidarity Project. The organization has put together a petition on Avaaz to demand an end to these attacks.

November 26 2013

Global Voices Partners With Fundación MEPI

Global Voices has launched a new partnership with Fundación MEPI, an organization that promotes regional investigative projects in the Americas.

MEPI was founded in 2010 in Mexico, where news outlets’ lack of financial resources and attacks against journalists have stifled investigative reporting. In response to these challenges, MEPI seeks to promote freedom of the press and support “the development of the next generation of reporters in Mexico and Central America.”

Fundación MEPI

The MEPI website further explains:

The contemporary reader needs to understand how governments, public actors and agencies really work. It is these explanations that provide citizens of a democracy with the insight required to make informed decisions and procure a free and fair government. But the cost of producing quality information is rising and with the use of technology, so too is competition. With the help of donors, supporters and partners, Fundaciòn MEPI is committed to producing regional and cross-national investigations that use technology to illuminate corrupt practices, sleight of hand and impunity.

As part of their mission, MEPI aims to “link stories between the United States, Mexico and Central America and help explain transnational movements to readers across the globe.” MEPI's vision matches Global Voices’ mission to “build bridges across the gulfs that divide people, so as to understand each other more fully.”

Global Voices and Fundación MEPI will exchange content regularly. Sometimes we will break down their long-form investigations into series. We kick off this partnership with the article Machismo and Old Prejudices Keep Mexican Rape Victims Silent, which is also available in Spanish.

November 08 2013

Portraits of ‘Children Who Have Children’ in Guatemala

Heidy, from Guatemala, was 12 when she became a mother. Photograph by Linda Forsell, used with permission.

Heidy, from Guatemala, was 12 when she became a mother. Photograph by Linda Forsell, used with permission.

Swedish photographer and journalist Linda Forsell has just started a Tumblr blog where she will be sharing her project “about young girls that have been sexually abused and have babies as a result of it.” Forsell explains:

Through a strong photographic depiction following the lives of a few of the young girls that are also mothers, I will depict the situation in Guatemala as well as give sexual abuse of girls in general, a face. They idea is to spend much time with 3-5 girls, dispersed over 3 trips to the country. I will aim to depict their normal lives with problems and hope. I will also do audio-recorded interviews to use as an addition in a final slideshow published on the web and hopefully through external media. The material will also result in an exhibition that I hope to travel from Sweden to Guatemala and abroad.

You can also follower her on Twitter.

October 22 2013

This Weekend at Developing Latin America 2013 Apps Challenge (Part I)

dal2013pic

Photo from Desarrollando América Latina Facebook page.

This past weekend has been very productive for the Developing Latin America (#DAL2013) Apps Challenge; there was movement in person and on social networks in almost all locations of the participating countries. In this post we bring you a brief summary of what happened.

In México [es] they share some of the challenges they have raised and the activities they have organized to find solutions: 

#DAL2013 challenge about education in Mexico, children's rights and more.

Challenge ‘Infancy Counts': Visualizes the state of infancy in Mexico.

Video: Data expedition with @Mexicanos1o for #DAL2013

#DAL2013 Challenge: Information about quality and service in health clinics. Have you picked yours?

#DAL2013 Challenge: Help youth identify risky situations that can turn them into victims of trafficking.

Participants in Guatemala [es] have shown their excitement about a series of scheduled conferences:

Saturday conferences begin.

Socio-technical network of a flexible screen

“Ideas are easy to copy; business ideas, socio-technical ideas are harder” Alvaro Figueredo

The project has to take on a life of its own and have momentum to keep going- Javier Álvarez

The presentation on civic hacking is available here –> http://t.co/Y3PzA489T5

Civic hackers from Costa Rica [es] took some time off this weekend, but the previous weekend they held their hackathon:

Experts co-creating with participants. In Costa Rica #DAL2013 has just begun!

24 hours later, 10 teams, 34 young people, a lot of talent.

A lot has happened at #DAL2013 Do you want to learn about the hackathon in Costa Rica?

#DAL2013 Costa Rica winners awarded by President Laura Chinchilla

@nacion brings us an article about all the winning teams of Developing Latin America Costa Rica 2013

Colombia [es] also held its hackathon earlier:

@williamgomezg presents #mochilapp projects, health and technology, political oversight. Great ideas!

@TheColombist presents this interesting project #RutaCiudadana

@sibcolombia shows for the first time their dynamic and open app to explore georeferenced data

Colombia also develops solutions at #DAL2013

Hackers and other specialists in Ecuador [es] are working towards Demo Day on October 26, but they've also been sharing some tweets about their activities:

#DAL2013 kicks off in Ecuador at ESPAE, Espol Campus Las Peñas

Ecuador seeks to find solutions to problems related to transportation, environment, democracy, health and education.

Complete integration between participants at DAL Ecuador

Awards at DAL Ecuador are being presented, thanks to @McDonalds_Ecu

We thank Santa María University for hosting the data scraping event last night.

And in Peru [es] there's been a lot of activity in the past two weekends, with the hashtags #datamaskay (data search) and #dataminka (work with data) becoming quite popular on Twitter:

#DAL2013 throughout October! [month of hackathons, earthquakes and miracles!] > @IPAE_Innova and @escuelab invite you!

Solutions are found in open data. In Peru ideas become solutions!

We have data! Latest poll about corruption 2013

Ideas discussed at #dataminka!

Once participants decided which app would be ideal to develop, they debated which resources they will use.

In the next post we will continue reporting about activities in the other countries participating in Developing Latin America 2013!

October 15 2013

Communities in Guatemala Resist Hydroelectric Project

“Development for who? Will the money stay in the community? No, it goes to fill others’ pockets, and we will continue to live in poverty. What we’re asking now is for the government to cancel all the [mining and hydroelectric] licenses that have been granted.”

In Upside Down World, Kelsey Alford-Jones, Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC), writes about the resistance movement against proposed hydroelectric projects in Santa Cruz Barillas, Guatemala.

September 28 2013

In U.S. Trial of Massacre Suspect, a Rare Chance for Guatemalan Justice

In U.S. Trial of Massacre Suspect, a Rare Chance for Guatemalan Justice
http://www.psmag.com/politics/u-s-trial-massacre-suspect-rare-chance-guatemalan-justice-67005

A survivor of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre and former Guatemalan commandos who carried it out will testify against a former army lieutenant, a U.S. citizen who prosecutors say lied about his involvement.

#guatemala

September 27 2013

Developing Latin America 2013: An ‘Apps Challenge’ for Social Impact

flyer_inscripciones

“Developing Latin America”

Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente is about to launch a new edition of their regional initiative entitled Developing Latin America [es], which brings together the efforts of developers, social specialists, and others to use open data to create applications that serve the Latin American community. In their own words [es]:

Impulsamos aplicaciones innovadoras, sustentables, escalables y de alto impacto social. Celebramos a la comunidad de emprendedores, tecnólogos, desarrolladores y diseñadores, desafiándolos a trabajar en conjunto con sus gobiernos y organizaciones locales para co-crear soluciones que generen un cambio positivo para los ciudadanos. Fomentamos una cultura de creatividad, innovación y emprendimiento en América Latina.

We promote innovative, sustainable, and scalable applications with a high social impact. We celebrate the community of entrepreneurs, technologists, developers and designers, challenging them to work together with their governments and local organizations to co-create solutions that generate a positive change for citizens. We foster a culture of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in Latin America.

For its third edition, Developing Latin America (DAL) is transforming and is going from being a Hackathon to what they call an Apps Challenge, meaning a longer event with the goal of developing better ideas, obtaining more concrete solutions, and, as such, achieving applications that are more sustainable and scalable.

But, what is an Apps Challenge? [es]

Un Apps Challenge es una competencia entre aplicaciones. En el caso de DAL, es una competencia colaborativa que se realizará a lo largo de tres intensas semanas de desarrollo. Esta etapa está diseñada para dotar a los equipos de las herramientas que permitan desarrollar una aplicación innovadora y disruptiva. Realizaremos varias actividades con el objetivo de generar aplicaciones de alto impacto social.

An Apps Challenge is a competition between applications. In the case of DAL, it is a collaborative competition that will be held over the course of three intense weeks of development. This stage is designed to give teams the tools that will allow for the development of an innovative and disruptive application. Various activities will take place with the goal of generating applications of high social impact.

compartamos-ideas

“Let's share idea and work together to develop Latin America!”

DAL officially launches on October 5 of this year, and we say officially because in reality the coordination of DAL and the different teams in charge of the event in the participating countries (now 12) have been working on preparing for it for several weeks. In fact, each team has planned various activities [es] to take place in their country during the month of October and, on October 26, there will be a Demo Day in addition to the selection of the three best applications per country.

But that is not all. After this phase, in association with Socialab, a project accelerator specialized in high impact social projects, will choose five teams among the winners to build up their projects for three months, helping them construct a business plan and find funding, among other things:

  • Co-creación “en terreno” con sus potenciales usuarios y clientes.
  • Definición de áreas de impacto que el proyecto tendrá en la sociedad, estos son co-creados con la comunidad y usuarios en trabajos en terreno.
  • Capacitarse en metodología de innovación y emprendimiento (Lean Start-Up, Canvas Business Model, Design Thinking, etc.)
  • Búsqueda de financiamiento para la sustentabilidad de sus proyectos a través de distintos medios: inversionistas, crowdfundings, fondos concursables, entre otros.
  • Generación de redes con distintos actores relevantes para el proyecto.
  • Planes comunicacionales y financieros elaborados.
  • Co-creation “in the field” with their potential users and clients.
  • Definition of areas of impact that the project will have in society, these are co-created with the community and users in field work.
  • Training in innovation and entrepreneurship (Lean Start-up, Canvas Business Model, Design Thinking, etc.)
  • Finding funds for sustainability of their projects through various means: investors, crowd funding, competitive funds, among others.
  • Generating networks with various stakeholders relevant to the project.
  • Elaborating communication and financial plans.

To learn a bit more about what DAL will be like this year and familiarize ourselves with the Apps Challenge process, our collaborator, Elizabeth Rivera, met with Anca Matioc, Regional Coordinator of Developing Latin America. Below is a video [es] of the interview:

In the interview, Matioc expanded on DAL's decision to go from a Hackathon, typically 36 hours, to an Apps Challenge, which will span a period of three weeks. As a response to DAL's growth over the past two years, Matioc highlighted the desire to have participants go beyond making prototypes for applications by giving them the opportunity to create more efficient and finished apps for social change. With the Apps Challenge, which she described as an “extended hackathon”, each of the twelve participating countries will have its own agenda of activities and workshops, culminating in the Demo Day and Socialab nominations. Currently, DAL is continuing its preparations for the event and meeting with its stakeholders to discuss their roles as mentors for each team of participants.

DAL has already generated interest in the region. For example, ALT1040 reports on the event and says [es]:

Este tipo de programas son ideales para impulsar pequeñas startups que pretenden resolver problemas comunes de la región. Lo interesante es que las aplicaciones pueden estar enfocadas tanto en solucionar un problema de tu país como hasta solucionar uno de Latinoamérica en su totalidad. Un reflejo de que podemos y queremos cambiar el mundo en el que vivimos, aunque tengamos que hacerlo una aplicación a la vez.

These types of programs are ideal for inspiring small startups seeking to resolve common problems in the region. The interesting thing is that the applications can be focused on solving a problem in your country as well as solving one in Latin America as a whole. A reflection on the idea that we can and want to change the world we live in, even if we have to do it one application at a time.

El Becario from the Código Espagueti blog reflects [es]:

Sin duda, un gran reto para países en los que no todos tienen un smartphone o una tableta, aún así se trata de un gran esfuerzo que bien podría ayudar a mejorar las condiciones de vida en la región.

Without a doubt, a big challenge for countries where not everyone has a smartphone or tablet; still, it is a great initiative that could really help improve living conditions in the region.

If you are a developer and are interested not only in a professional challenge but simultaneously having the opportunity to help solve social problems in your city or country, such as education, health, public safety, and transportation, among others, you can sign up [es] until October 4 and participate in this event on a regional level.

On our behalf, we will be providing coverage of the details of this great initiative.

Other related posts:

2011
Developing Latin America – 30 hours of technology and society [es]
“Developing Latin America”: Open Data Projects

2012
Developing Latin America 2012
What Exactly is a Hackathon? And What is Open Data?
Developing Latin America Draws Near!
Day 1 of Developing Latin America 2012
Day 2 of Developing Latin America 2012
Winning Applications From Latin America's Biggest Hackathon

September 24 2013

Latin America: “Where do the Disappeared go?”

Manifestación convocada por la Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos. 2009, Santiago, Chile. Foto de antitezo en Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Demonstration Convened by Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos [Families of Detained Missing Persons Group]. 2009, Santiago, Chile. Photo from antitezo on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This is the second part of a two-part article. To read the first part click here. We also invite you to visit the Office of High Commission for Human Rights page, which you can access with this link, for some more official information on the topic.

In the previous post we explored some of the stories and activity of families of missing people in Latin America. We got closer to testimonies, we opened up contexts, and we introduced popular songs which ask, “Where do the missing people go?”

After decades of questions with no answers and cases that continue to increase the list of victims, we could say that, thanks to their relatives, the missing people and their stories can be found, if only virtually, on Internet social networks.

We see, therefore, family and friends making an effort to fight so that memories are not another victim of the forced disappearances. In this way, the internet becomes a source of innumerable initiatives and stories that fight against impunity and the return to the past.

In this post we dedicate space to the topic in Peru, Guatemala, Uruguay and Mexico. Similarly, we also mention the contribution from arcoiris TV [es], which makes accessible a documentary [es] directed by Ángel Palacios about forced disappearances in Venezuela.

In Peru, the conflict between the Peruvian State, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) has been the main source of the crimes that have resulted in victims of forced disappearances.

A decade after the delivery of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, Spacio Libre [es] publishes observations about the results that the Peruvian justice has presented regarding the victims of forced disappearances. In the editorial, the right of the victims to get answers is defended and the unfulfilled promises that are not allowed to advance to Peruvian justice are listed:

Muy poco se ha avanzado en materia de reparaciones y sobre todo en la búsqueda de la verdad y de un proceso sincero de reconciliación, luego de la violencia desatada por la insanía terrorista de Sendero Luminoso y el MRTA y la respuesta brutal de un Estado que no dirimió entre inocentes y culpables y mató tan igual que el enemigo que perseguía.

Y es que no se puede hablar de reconciliación, cuando un sector bastante influyente de la clase política ha pretendido silenciar y desprestigiar un trabajo realizado con ahínco, con compromiso y con un interés concreto de generar memoria y buscar un camino para recuperar la esperanza de miles de familias que perdieron a un ser querido y que en muchos casos (15 mil) no tienen ni idea de donde están.

Very little has progressed in terms of compensation and above all in the search for the truth and for a sincere process of reconciliation, after the violence unleashed by the terrorist insanity of Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA and the brutal response of a State that does not distinguish between the innocent and the guilty and kills just the same as the enemy it pursues.

And the thing is you can't talk about reconciliation, when such an influential sector of the political class has tried to silence and discredit an undertaking achieved with effort, with compromise and with a concrete interest in generating a memory and searching for a way to regain hope for thousands of families that lost a loved one that in many cases (15 thousand) have no idea where they are.

Also in Peru, the historian Renzo Salvador Aroni [es] gathers stories and analyses the circumstances of families that still hope for signs from their missing relatives. In his post “The Families of the Disappeared”, the blogger defends the importance of regaining the historical memory of the country and indicates that this also involves “regaining the memory of those who are absent”:

[…] La memoria de los familiares de los desaparecidos, siguen aguardando la posibilidad de que sus seres queridos aparezcan. […] Para los familiares es muy difícil aceptar un hecho aún no concluido.

[…] The memory of the family members of the missing people, they continue believing in the possibility that their loved ones will appear. […] For the families it is very difficult to accept an event that is unresolved.

The author also explains how pieces of memory carve themselves a space in people's daily lives. He explains that these are painful experiences and sometimes they express themselves in oral narratives, in artistic representations, in dreams, and in other forms of language, and cites part of the testimonial of the mother of a missing person.

- Si lo veo, me dice: “mamá no llores por mí”.

Así me habla. Ya no lo he vuelto a ver [a mi hijo: Segundino Flores Allcaco], sólo en mis sueños. Lo veo con la misma ropa que tenía puesta.

- If I see him, he tells me: “Mum don't cry for me”.

This is how he talks to me. I haven't seen him again [my son: Segundino Flores Allcaco], only in my dreams. I see him with the same clothes he had on.

In Guatemala, where the detained and disappeared are commemorated every 21st of June, the Comunidades de Población en Resistencia (Communities of Population In Resistance) [es] blog explains that forced disappearance in Guatemala is a current circumstance, that has expanded throughout the region and that counts on the silent collaboration of power:

La desaparición forzada en Guatemala no es un hecho del pasado. Es un crimen de lesa humanidad de carácter imprescriptible instaurado en América Latina, que también permanece vigente por su continua utilización como mecanismo de control social y dominio político; así como por la impunidad que persiste sobre los hechos cometidos y que hoy se expresa, entre otras cosas, en la reconfiguración de las estructuras de poder que articularon, financiaron y callaron estos crímenes.

Forced disappearances in Guatemala are not a fact of the past. It's a crime against humanity of an imprescriptible character established in Latin America, that also remains in force because of its continued use as a social control and political dominance mechanism; as well as because of the impunity that persists about the committed acts and that is expressed today, among other things, in the reconfiguration of the power structures that articulate, finance and conceal these crimes.

The blog Familiares de Desaparecidos [Families of the Disappeared] [es] also reunites the Uruguayan families of missing people that have not stopped searching and gathers together the efforts of people who live in Uruguay or are in exile:

Desde la apertura democrática caminamos juntos respetando la diversidad de pensamientos que nos caracteriza pero unidos en torno a nuestros principales objetivos: MEMORIA, VERDAD, JUSTICIA Y NUNCA MÁS

Since the democratic opening we have walked together respecting the diversity of thoughts that characterises us but united around our principal objectives: MEMORY, TRUTH, JUSTICE AND NEVER AGAIN

In Mexico the forced disappearances explode from the war against narcotics trafficking. The Mexican Comité Cerezo [es] made available a handbook called “What to do in case of forced disappearance [es]“, downloadable from its web page.

It's important to add that the topic of disappearances is not exclusive to Latin America and does not form a part just of the historical memory. Yet the number of people who vanish in dubious circumstances is great, and many more are those who are silenced and terrorised by these crimes.

So, to conclude, it's important to highlight that the families’ struggle continues outside the Internet. And also that these initiatives and movements see their reflections online before and after the international day of their commemoration. In this way social media helps to revive the memories and connect groups of victims outside their borders. Their meeting point: the search for answers and the collective fight for justice.

September 10 2013

Indigenous Demand Investigation into Massacre at Nacahuil, Guatemala

San Jose Nacahuil, a small village near Guatemala City with a majority of Maya – Kaqchikel inhabitants, made international headlines during the weekend after gunmen killed 11 people and wounded 28 more on September 7, 2013.

Media reported that corrupt officers or gangs were the main suspects in the killings that took place in two cantinas and nearby streets, but no arrests have been made. The authorities confirmed that they suspect that gangs could be involved [es].

However, indigenous communities are opposing the government's hypothesis and demanding an investigation, as stated in a press release by the Kaqchikel community of San Jose Nacahuil and other organizations:

We are informing the international and the national community of the massacre that occurred on 7 September at 23 hours, against the Kaqchikel community of San Jose Nacahuil, in the municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc.

San José Nacahuil is a community of Indigenous Kaqchikel people, it has its own community authorities, and police presence is unnecessary. It is the only Mayan village and the largest community of San Pedro Ayampuc. Nacahuil has been characterized for defense of its territory against threats outside threats. Examples include TRECCSA, the electricity distribution company, the community prevented its passage, and the ongoing actions in La Puya, where there is a peaceful movement resisting a mining company

The comuniqué continues:

We are strongly opposed to the statement of the Minister of the Interior that blamed gangs, which is completely false. It is premature to make statements without having initiated an investigation.

We call on communities, national and international organizations for solidarity with the Kaqchikel people of San José Nacahuil for these bloody acts that have made the whole community mourn.

Community press from San Jose Nacahuil [es] reported that local leaders denounced increased police presence as early as August 31, 2013, and that their alerts were ignored by human rights authorities. Local reports also indicate that the police asked for names and documents of those present at the cantinas just a few hours before the massacre took place, which was later confirmed by the Ministry of Interior.

On Twitter, user @chapinesxGuate wrote:

Official versions must be questioned until they are confirmed

And reporter Claudia Palma shared the following photo two days after the killings:

Residents of San José Nacahuil walk to local cemetery

As the investigation is pending and no suspects have been arrested, communities wait for answers as fear spreads.

But the inhabitants of the area are no strangers to violence; conflict related to mining has increased in complexity, and aggression has progressed into growing threats and physical violence. As the community struggles to preserve their territory free from mining and militarization, placing the blame on gangs and drug lords poses a new threat to rural and indigenous activists, as it might become an excuse to justify acts of repression.

FrontLine Defenders reported on two recent cases:

During the early morning of 10 July 2013, several shots were fired outside the home of Ms Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid, leader of the Frente Norte del Área Metropolitana (FRENAM – Northern Front of the Metropolitan Area), a movement of community members who defend the land from the expansion of mining activities in San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, in the Department of Guatemala. The incident happened shortly after the killing of human rights defender Mr Santos Fidel Ajau Suret, as he returned from participating in the peaceful sit-in protests against a mining project at La Puya village.

Rights Action wrote more about the community's resistance to mining:

Since March of 2012, Guatemalan community members from the municipalities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have demanded the cancellation of the American mining company Kappes Cassidy and Associates’ (KCA’s) exploitation license in the Tambor mountain region (originally owned and operated by Canadian mining company Radius Gold Inc.). Over the past 16 months, participants of the community roadblock have endured often violent and systematic repression organized by the mining company, pro-mining community members and the government.

International Peace Brigades published [es, PDF] a report on peaceful resistance in La Puya, a community which managed to resist the militarization and police control of their village by creating their own police force.

Indigenous organizations have filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) alleging that the Guatemalan government is openly supporting and protecting the mining sector by passing laws which unfairly benefit the industry.

Rights Action expressed its concern that violence and repression to defend the interests of mining companies is becoming the policy to follow in the region:

Over the past few years, in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador alone, there have been multiples murders, numerous armed attacks, gang-rapes, and other acts of repression against local citizens, all linked to Canadian/American mining companies: Hudbay Minerals, Goldcorp Inc, Pacific Rim, Tahoe Resources, Radius Gold, KCA Associates,

This repression and violence is guaranteed to continue, until North American citizens bring enough pressure to bear on our governments, media, companies and investors, to begin to hold them legally and morally accountable for these harms and violations.

September 04 2013

Derailment of ‘La Bestia’, Another Tragedy in a Broken Immigration System

Migrants on

Migrants on “la Bestia”. Photo by Peter Haden on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

On August 25, 2013 a cargo train derailed in southern Mexico killing 11 Central American migrants who were hitching a ride on top of the freight cars. At least 250 Central Americans were estimated to have been riding on the train before it derailed, injuring another 18 migrants.

Each year thousands of Central Americans hitch rides on northbound Mexican freight trains for a chance at reaching the U.S. border in search of work and a better life. Migrants often ride the trains to escape Mexican immigration officials who scour buses at checkpoints in search of Central Americans to deport.

Known among migrants as ‘la bestia’ (the beast), the Mexican train offers Central Americans an alternative way of reaching the U.S., but it is a route fraught with dangers. Gangs and corrupt Mexican officials maraud the train lines and extort or kidnap migrants, oftentimes capturing and forcing them to work for organized crime groups.

While train derailments of la bestia are common, the biggest challenge, which many migrants passing through Mexico face, comes from the gangs who prey upon their vulnerable situation. For most Central American migrants, the vast majority of whom come from Honduras, currently the country with the world’s highest murder rate, their experience with gang-related violence often begins before they even leave their countries of origin.

In the last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a small migrant shelter in Mexico City. Last March, we received a Honduran woman at the shelter, named Juana Morelos, who was traveling on la bestia with her seven-year-old son. Juana left Honduras because a local gang who extorted money from a small store she owned began making death threats on her family when she could no longer afford to pay them off. Afraid for her life, Juana fled from Honduras with her son and started hopping Mexican freight trains north towards the U.S. border.

Juana and her son spent several months in Mexico City, during which I gave her a crash course in basic English, before she and her son continued their dangerous journey towards Texas. When Juana finally arrived at the U.S. border, we received news at the shelter that she had tried crossing with a coyote [people smuggler] and was deported. I was concerned about Juana’s safety, but once I heard she had arrived at the border, where the threat of kidnapping often increases, I became even more terrified.

Juana reached the border two months after the “Gang of 8” senators released their proposal for a new comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed in the Senate last June, and includes an increase of 3,500 Border Patrol agents and 4.5 billion dollars to add new surveillance systems, aerial drones, and the construction of more fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead of addressing the reasons why Juana and the hundreds of migrants on board the Mexican train that derailed last week migrate north to the U.S., the current immigration reform bill offers them a closed door in their attempt to flee violence largely caused by America’s consumption of illegal drugs.

The current immigration reform bill greatly resembles the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which legalized almost three million undocumented migrants in the U.S. and quintupled the number of Border Patrol agents to almost 22,000. Today, an estimated 11 million people live in the U.S. without legal residency, signifying that IRCA did little to solve the problems which force people to migrate in the first place.

While visiting a small town in the central Mexican state of Querétaro this year, I met an 81-year-old man, named Jose Ramírez, who gained U.S. citizenship through IRCA. As a young man, Ramírez would spend half of each year doing farm work in the U.S. and return home to visit his wife and children. When crossing the border became more costly and dangerous, Ramírez could no longer justify returning to Mexico as often, so he moved his entire family to Florida. The increase in border security over the last half-century that was supposed to keep people like Ramírez out of the U.S. became exactly what motivated him to resettle his family to Florida.

While it’s true that many people from Mexico and Central America enter the U.S. without authorization and settle permanently, it doesn’t mean that they want to. Like most men and women from small town USA, Latin American migrant workers often come from rural areas where locals value home and family. If you offered most residents in rural America a job that paid up to seven times their current income, but that involved relocating to a foreign country with a different language, and risking your life by walking through a desert to get there, most would probably opt to stay home. But for people like Juana Morelos, lack of economic opportunities and violence caused by the drug trade often leave them with no choice.

Increasing security along our southern border will keep many future immigrants out of our country, but it won’t stop them from trying to enter it. During my research on migration in Mexico over the last year, I met many Mexicans who worked decades in the U.S. with fake documents just to save enough money to buy land and start a business back home. What if instead of investing billions of dollars in drones and fences, we used some of that money to partner with the Mexican government and create loans for these would-be entrepreneurs to start small businesses and employ their neighbors?

A truly comprehensive immigration reform bill should also include a plan to decrease the violence in Central America which forces many locals to migrate. Honduras and El Salvador currently have the highest murder rates in the world. This violence is mainly caused by cartels that have begun using Central America to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

Photos of migrants standing alongside the overturned train at the site of la bestia derailment last week are an easy story for media outlets seeking a gripping response from their readers or viewers. But the train accident is just one incident in a vast chain of violence and increasing danger which follows migrants from Central America to the U.S. border. It’s an issue which many U.S. politicians currently want to solve by militarizing the southern frontier, but just like when IRCA became law 25 years ago, the real problems that must be addressed remain far away from the U.S. border.

Several days after Juana was deported, she and her son tried crossing the U.S. border again. Back at the shelter in Mexico City, one of Juana’s relatives told me that his time they made it safely to Houston.

As the House prepares to vote on immigration reform later this year, thousands more migrants, like Juana and her son, continue to enter the U.S. with smugglers. If the current immigration reform bill passes the House, it will offer citizenship only to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. in 2011 or earlier. Without a change of focus on how our nation approaches immigration in the future, the derailing of la bestia will continue to be just a small incident among a much greater tragedy, and Juana and her son will become part of the next generation of undocumented immigrants forced to live in our shadows.

Some names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Levi Bridges is a journalist and Fulbright Scholar based in Mexico City. He writes at www.bridgesandborders.com and tweets @levi_bridges.

August 23 2013

Wave of Violence Against Guatemalan Journalists

Guatemalan journalists Carlos Alberto Orellana Chávez was gunned down on Monday, August 19, 2013; he is the fourth journalist killed in Guatemala this year.

In an opinion piece [es] published in Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre, UN's special rapporteur for freedom of expression Frank La Rue denounced “the recent wave of aggressions against journalists in the country,” as Alejandro Martínez reports in The Knight Center's Journalism in the Americas blog:

La Rue criticized the administration of President Otto Pérez Molina for failing to stem crime in the country, siding with private interests, persecuting social leaders and not protecting journalists from judicial harassment, lawsuits, threats, physical aggressions and killings.

“Today violence has turned toward the sectors of the press that hold critical positions toward those in power, because of their social function of investigating and informing, but this year's level of aggressions had not been seen in a decade,” said La Rue, who described the violence as a “step backwards for democracy and (the country's) peace process.”

August 19 2013

Guatemalan Indigenous People Hold Peaceful Protests

As part of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Guatemalan indigenous people held peaceful protests around the country to demand that their rights be respected.

Cultural Survival reported on the peaceful protests which were held on August 9, 2013:

The general sentiment of the protests as sited by Indigenous leader Paulina Culum, was that they were “against the injustice, inequality, and corruption that have plagued [Indigenous] communities in Guatemala over the last 500 years, and continue to do so today”.

Among the extensive list of legal initiatives and requests that were purported during the protests, was the community radio movement’s bill 4087, which proposes the legalization of community radio in the country.

May 27 2013

Impunité au Guatemala : deux pas en avant, un pas en arrière

Le 10 mai 2013 , le tribunal de Guatemala ciudad marquait les annales judiciaires internationales en condamnant pour génocide l'ancien dictateur José Efraín Ríos Montt à quatre-vingt ans de prison ferme : la peine maximale. Cinquante ans pour crimes de génocide. Trente ans pour crimes contre l'humanité. Un grand pas venait d'être franchi au royaume de l'impunité. Le 20 mai 2013, la Cour constitutionnelle guatémaltèque votait l'annulation de la condamnation. M. Ríos Montt arriva au pouvoir le 23 mars 1982 (...) - Americas / Guatemala, Génocide, Indiens, Justice

May 11 2013

Efraín Ríos Montt Found Guilty of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Guatemalan de facto dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was declared guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. After organizing and fighting in courts for years, Guatemala's Ixil Maya indigenous achieved justice.

The verdict was live-tweeted and streamed [es].

While Ríos Montt was declared guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison, former Intelligence Director José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez was declared innocent.

Rios Montt ruled Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983 during the country's 36-year civil war. As Xeni Jardin explains in BoingBoing: “The 86-year-old former General and head of state was charged with the crimes over a counterinsurgency campaign in 1982-1983 that resulted in the deaths of 1,771 Maya Ixil.”

Rios Montt Genocide Trial Day 26

Rios Montt Genocide Trial Day 26. Photo by James Rodriguez of MiMundo.org, used with permission.

Guatemala's indigenous were severely impacted by the war; they lost land, houses, animals, crops, and had to live in hiding in the mountains. After the war the country offered little opportunities.

Today, the Ixil communities are among the poorest in the country, with up to 77% living in poverty [es]. In Guatemala, where up to 40% of the population is indigenous, eight out of 10 indigenous peoples are poor. Furthermore, racism impacts their education and employment opportunities.

In spite of their poverty, the survivors were not asking for reparations -they were asking for justice, as Mr. Benjamín Jerónimo, plaintiff of the genocide case, told the tribunal in the closing arguments of a very complex trial which Amnesty International summarized in ten facts:

Genocide was committed, crimes against humanity were committed and today, 100 witnesses came to tell the truth, to ask for justice for all that we suffered, publicly… We are not looking for vengeance, we are looking for a true peace with justice, with respect, with equality, with dignity, that is why we are here.

It takes more than ten hours to travel in public transport from the Ixil region to Guatemala City, where the trial took place. In spite of their modest income and the distance, members of the Ixil community were present in the courtroom every day, as photo records by James Rodriguez of MiMundo.org and the coverage by Xeni Jardin in Boing Boing show. Xeni live tweeted the final verdict from the courtroom.

Picture by James Rodríguez, Mimundo.org used with permission.

Picture by James Rodríguez, Mimundo.org used with permission.

A video explaining all the evidence leading to the charges was aired this week by PBS in the United States, generating debate about president Reagan's involvement. The article “The Final Battle: Rios Montt's Counterinsurgency Campaign: U.S. and Guatemalan Documents Describe the Strategy Behind Scorched Earth” by The National Security Archive adds:

Ríos Montt's scorched earth tactics are documented in a collection of Guatemalan army records created in July and August 1982, connected to Operation Sofía — a series of counterinsurgency sweeps through the Ixil region to kill EGP combatants and destroy their “base of support” (the Maya Ixil population). The Operation Sofía documents were given to the National Security Archive in 2009 and the Archive in turn provided them as criminal evidence to the prosecutors in the genocide case.

The trial has been an example of open justice, with translation available for the Ixil peoples during the entire trial, unrestricted access to press and a strong interaction in social media.

Parallel to the debate in court, a conversation -a battle of ideas and facts- took place online.

Netizens used the hashtags #riosmontt, #genocidegt and #sihubogenocidio (“yes, it was genocide”), and there were livestreams here (audio), here (audio) and here.

There are also netizens who deny that there was a genocide, and they are using the hashtag #nohubogenocidio (“there was no genocide”) to share their views.

During the trial citizens all over the world took a pledge and shared a photo showing their support for justice.

International volunteers from NISGUA, Peace Brigades International, Collectif Guatemala and other NGOs worked and supported families of survivors during the trial. They also produced content in English and French to share with the world.

After thirty years, this landmark verdict materializing the spirit of the Genocide Convention and the enforcement of crimes against humanity is an insurance for each and every human being, as it sets a precedent for current conflicts around the world. It is a ray of hope for entire villages labelled as “the enemy” in Syria, for the suffering of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and for all the conflicts to come.

Furthermore, it also marks a new beginning for an inclusive Guatemala, embracing and learning from the values and differences of 24 nations, starting with the lessons of courage, patience and non-violent struggle for justice taught by the Ixil. As Salvadoran digital journal El Faro said, the Ixil peoples already achieved a victory [es].

Photo via @</a><a href=Xeni: "Juana Sanchez Toma, Ixil rape victim whom we interviewed for @newshour. 'I dreamed of justice. And now here it is.'"" class="size-medium wp-image-411666" height="281" src="http://globalvoicesonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/BJ8a9O5CMAAUgYi-375x281.jpg" width="375" />

Photo via @Xeni: “Juana Sanchez Toma, Ixil rape victim whom we interviewed for @newshour. ‘I dreamed of justice. And now here it is.'”

May 10 2013

Rios Montt Testifies in Genocide Trial

On the 26th day of the historic Genocide trial against former de facto head of state Efrain Rios Montt and his Head of Intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, the prosecution and defense gave their closing statements and the main accused, Rios Montt, finally declared.

James Rodriguez shares a photo essay of the day in MiMundo.org.
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May 02 2013

Guatemala: State of Siege After Anti-Mining Protests

State of siege in San Rafael Mine in Guatemala. Photo shared by James Rodriguez in the MiMundo.org Facebook page

State of siege in San Rafael Mine in Guatemala. Photo shared by James Rodriguez in the MiMundo.org Facebook page


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April 27 2013

#FLISOL 2013: Hundreds of Latin Americans Installing Free Software

Flisol 2013 Banner.

Flisol 2013 Banner.

From the Patagonia to Havana, hundreds of computer users across Latin America are choosing freedom over control by installing free software on their computers. On April 27th, groups of free software enthusiasts will be installing free software in dozens of cities across Latin America as part of FLISOL [es], the Latin American free software installation festival.
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April 26 2013

Nobel Laureates: On with Ríos Montt Trial

“If this case does not move forward, survivors of Guatemala’s genocide are being victimized all over again,” says Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams, co-founder of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. “They have taken a huge risk in testifying, and many have been harassed, intimidated and threatened. To annul the case would turn the clock back on justice—and would be a victory for impunity.”

Nobel Peace laureates are calling on Guatemalan authorities to proceed with the case against Efraín Ríos Montt. The trial against the former dictator and his former intelligence director was declared invalid last week.

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