Guatemala: Anti-Genocide Champions Under Threat

Serious forms of intimidation are being used against Guatemalan activists seeking to end impunity for the former military and political officials responsible for the nation’s recent state-led genocide. Activists and organizations suffered kidnapping, threats, stalkings and break-ins in recent months.

On February 2, Otto Navarro, a Center for Legal Action in Human Rights [CALDH] lawyer, discovered that the tire of his vehicle had been slashed. That same day, the coordinator of CALDH`s Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Department, José Roberto Morales, was kidnapped as he entered his house. It was the beginning of four days of attacks.

Between February 3 and 5, unidentified assailants broke into the offices of three other organizations working against impunity. Invaders searched through the groups’ files, took nearly a dozen computers, defecated on the property and stole film equipment. On February 5, while members of these organizations stood outside their offices awaiting the arrival of Guatemalan authorities to investigate the break-ins, a car drove by slowly as a passenger within the vehicle filmed the group. Later that day CALDH lawyer Angélica González found a threatening note on her vehicle’s windshield.

Charges of Genocide

The first charges of genocide against former government and military leaders were filed in May 2000 by the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH), a reputable Guatemala based social justice group, in partnership with the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), a multiethnic coalition of Maya war survivors.

In June 2001, the organizations filed another case which accused then-president of Congress Efraín Ríos Montt – who ruled over tens of thousands of deaths and disappearances during his 1982-1983 regime – of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Many contend that the organizations’ continued pursuit to hold Ríos Montt accountable for his crimes accounts for the current danger they face.

The threats began on February 2 when Otto Navarro, a CALDH lawyer, discovered that the tire of his vehicle had been slashed.

That same day, the coordinator of CALDH`s Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Department, Josè Roberto Morales, returned home from the office in one of the group’s vehicles. Upon arriving at his house, two armed men promptly kidnapped him. They carjacked his vehicle and later released him in a neighboring residential area.

CALDH reports that the men told Morales that if he decided to activate the vehicle’s alarm they would return to his home to kill him. Shortly thereafter, the vehicle was found abandoned nearby with all of Morales’ belongings, including a new laptop computer, apparently untouched.

Over the following weekend, from February 3-5, unidentified assailants broke into the offices of three other Guatemalan organizations working against impunity for those guilty of genocide: Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit, which records all attacks against Guatemalan human rights defenders, and recently released a report analyzing the high-impact cases of 2006, National Movement for Human Rights, and Communication Association for Art and Peace, which is finishing documentaries on the genocide, the women of Ixcán, and the Dos Erres massacre.

In the course of the break-ins, the unknown invaders searched through the groups’ files, took nearly a dozen computers, defecated on the Communication Association for Art and Peace’s terrace and stole their film equipment. Their office was left virtually empty.

On the morning of February 5, while members of these organizations stood outside their offices awaiting the arrival of Guatemalan authorities to investigate the break-ins, a red Toyota Corolla with the licence plate 654CLO drove by slowly as a passenger within the vehicle filmed the group.

Later that day, Angèlica Gonzàlez, a CALDH lawyer who is representing other recently threatened Guatemalan human rights activists before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, found a note left on her vehicle’s windshield:

"DEJA DE FASTIDIAR CON PROTECCION PROTEGETE VOS MISMA QUE NO
ENTENDES CON TANTO AVISO DECILE AL PANCHO* QUE SE CUIDE […] Y LA MUJER QUE SIEMPRE ESTAN SOLOS SIEMPRE LOS VEMOS Y USTEDES ABOGANSTER DE MIERDA QUE SOLO DINERO QUIEREN BUSQUEN OTRO TRABAJO SINO UN DIA DE ESTOS SALDREMOS A ALMORSAR JUNTOS COMO SIEMPRE NOSOTROS INVITAMOS "ENTIENDEN HIJOS DE PUTA"".

STOP BOTHERING WITH PROTECTION PROTECT YOURSELF YOU DON’T GET IT EVEN THOUGH YOU’VE BEEN WARNED TELL PANCHO* TO TAKE CARE OF HIMSELF […] AND HIS WIFE THEY ARE ALWAYS ALONE WE ARE ALWAYS WATCHING THEM AND YOU FULL OF SHIT LAWYER-GANGSTERS MONEY IS ALL YOU WANT FIND ANOTHER JOB OR ELSE ONE OF THESE DAYS WE WILL GO OUT TO LUNCH TOGETHER AS ALWAYS IT IS ON US "GET IT YOU SONS OF WHORES".

[* Juan Francisco Soto, CALDH`s Legal Coordinator]

A Pivotal Moment

CALDH, in conjunction with the three organizations whose offices were raided, announced to media on February 6 that they believe the threats and break-ins might be linked. Other human rights groups working in Guatemala agree. "Guatemala is in a pivotal moment in its history," said Andrew de Sousa, national director of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, a U.S.-based organization which provides human rights observers to accompany the AJR and CALDH.

"With increased national and international pressure surrounding the genocide case and the fact that Ríos Montt is running for Congress – which will ultimately guarantee his immunity in front of the court system – the political consequences for him are incredibly intense. It is most likely that the threats are a result of this," de Sousa said.

On January 17, Ríos Montt announced before the Guatemalan legislature, "I will reach the highest rank. It could not be any other way…I will be president of Congress from 2008-2012." Ríos Montt serves as secretary general for the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), the largest political party represented within Guatemala`s Congress.

Interestingly, in reply to arrest warrants issued by Spain for Ríos Montt and six others in July on charges of genocide, Guatemala’s Vice President Eduardo Stein declared, "Guatemalans that commit crimes in national territory should be tried in Guatemala." However, the national genocide cases against Ríos Montt and others have been stalled in the investigative stage since their original filing six and seven years ago, respectively.

As a result, CALDH and the AJR formally requested in October 2006 that Attorney General Juan Luis Florido finally urge the subpoena of Ríos Montt for an initial statement, an important juncture at which formal charges could be filed against him. To date, they have not even received a response from the appropriate authorities.

Consequently, on February 7, CALDH and the AJR presented a complaint to Judge Roberto Peñate. The complaint registered their dissatisfaction with Attorney General Florido’s failure to advance the genocide cases past even the primary phase of judicial proceedings, where they have sat since 2000. CALDH and the AJR also called on Judge Peñate to collect Ríos Montt’s initial statement in order to formally accuse him of genocide against the Maya Ixil people.

A member of the AJR who asked only to be identified as Don Manuel said, "The judge and the Attorney General are surely not pursuing justice because of the money they are receiving, the bribes they get, so that Ríos Montt and others do not fall into a trap." If Judge Peñate orders a declaration from Ríos Montt for the case, he would become ineligible to run as a candidate in September’s elections. Candidate registration begins May 3.

"It escapes no one that now that the cases under national jurisdiction for the crime of genocide are on the march, many of those accused – them as well as their friends and/or people close to them and the facts [of the cases] – feel the blanket of impunity that covers them begin to flutter a bit," Otto Navarro, the CALDH lawyer who found his tire slashed, told Upside Down World. "For that motive they do whatever they can so that the status quo is maintained."

CALL TO ACTION:

To demand that Attorney General Florido finally take a statement from Ríos Montt, thereby preventing his candidacy and allowing the AJR to testify against him, click here: http://www.nisgua.org/get_involved/action_alerts/action_alert_02.asp

To demand that Guatemalan authorities protect the lives of anti-genocide activists who have been threatened due to their commitment to end impunity:

http://www.nisgua.org/get_involved/action_alerts/action_alert_04.asp

The Maya Survivors vs Los Genocidios: Interview with Antonio Caba, president of the AJR

Part 1: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/595/1/

Part 2: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/634/1/

photo by Elias Lawless, Austin IndyMedia