I recently produced a 29 minute radio documentary titled “Communities in the Crosshairs: The Drug War in Guatemala” for Free Speech Radio News, which will air in the US on December 25, 2012. Click here to listen to the audio version online. Big thanks to Shannon Young and the team at FSRN for their help with editing, production and tech. The music you hear in the documentary is from “Time for Marimba” [Minoru Miki], performed by DHernDniz. I hope to have a Spanish version of the documentary ready in the new year.
A transcript of the documentary is available after the jump, just click the “more” button to the right. (more…)
Here’s a piece I prepared for Toward Freedom recently. The Spanish version is forthcoming.
GUATEMALA CITY—The news broke in the United States during the lazy summer days of late August: 200 US Marines were stationed in Guatemala as part of the war on drugs. The deployment of US combat troops to Guatemala was part of Operation Martillo, a military plan meant to disrupt cocaine trafficking routes that pass through Central America on their way from Colombia to the United States.
Fighting organized crime and drug trafficking is the most recent justification for US incursions in Guatemala, also
serving to justify the increased activity of Guatemalan military around the country. This militarization is taking place in areas where there are fierce social and land conflicts related to the imposition of mega-resource extraction projects, such as in mining and oil industries. In addition, communities that resist displacement and the extractive industries have been tarred with accusations that they are involved in the organized crime; in some cases entire peasant villages have even been labeled “narco-communities.”
“We have the sense that [fighting narcotrafficking] is a pretext to return to the level of military deployment that was maintained during the height of the armed conflict, which resulted in acts of genocide,” said Iduvina Hernandez Batres, of the Guatemala City-based NGO Security and Democracy (Sedem). The Guatemalan Army, which is still formally ineligible for receiving US military assistance, was responsible for the vast majority of the 200,000 killed and the 50,000 disappeared during the internal armed conflict, which officially ended in 1996.
The Guatemalan army was called upon “to put an end to the external threats and contribute to neutralizing illegal armed groups by means of military power,” by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina the day after his inauguration in January 2012. Pérez Molina, a former General and head of army intelligence, also promised to increase military spending. So far, he has kept his promise. According to Plaza Publica, a Guatemalan investigative journalism outlet, projected spending on military and security equipment in 2013 alone will surpass all such spending between 2004 and 2012.
The arrival of US Marines in Guatemala represents more than a military maneuver to disrupt drug trafficking. It demonstrates that in allied countries like Guatemala, the US can champion a military invasion under the discourse of the war on drugs with little fanfare or criticism. The deployment of US troops to Guatemala is arguably the most blatant example of an evolving strategy that the US military establishment is betting on in order to expand and exercise control in the hemisphere, all within an international framework of formal democracy and law and order. (more…)
Merci a Estelle et Carlos Debiasi de El Correo pour leur traduction de CREOMPAZ: Guatemala’s ‘Little School of the Americas’ aux français!
COBAN, GUATEMALA—Depuis février, les anthropologues légistes ont trouvé prés de 400 restes humains dans une base militaire dans le Cobán, au Guatemala, dans ce qui est rapidement devenu la découverte de l’une des plus grandes fosses communes clandestines du pays. Pendant le conflit armé qui a saigné le pays pendant 36 ans et qui fut la scène d’actes génocidaires, la base de Cobán fut utilisée comme centre de renseignement pour la coordination d’opérations militaires.
Mais ce qui semble extraordinaire dans le cas en question, c’ est que la base militaire continue d’ être encore active aujourd’hui : Des effectifs militaires et policiers étrangers se rendent régulièrement à la base pour entraîner des troupes du Guatemala, Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras et de la République Dominicaine. (« Groupe de travail pour la stabilisation et la reconstruction ») En 2006, la zone militaire de Cobán a été rebaptisée avec le nom de CREOMPAZ, sigle pour« Comando Regional de Entrenamiento de Operaciones de Mantenimiento de Paz » (Commando Régional d’Entraînement d’Opérations de Maintien de Paix en espagnol).
L’histoire terrifiante de la base militaire de Cobán au Guatemala et l’impunité face à l’extermination d’hommes, femmes et d’enfants déploie une toile de fond inquiétante pour les « Opérations de paix » actuellement. (more…)
Last week I was interviewed during an episode of Inside Story Americas on Al Jazeera English where the topic at hand was Canadian mining in Guatemala.
And as to the question above: Even effective monitoring wouldn’t come close to what’s needed to prevent further disasters like the one people are living in San Marcos because of the Marlin Mine. There is no sustainable way to take out five grams of gold per tonne of ore. Open pit gold mega-mining is pure greed and shouldn’t be permitted anywhere.
Anyhow, if you haven’t seen it already, do have a look!
I was lucky to have had the chance to visit El Estor, Guatemala again recently, for the first time since I reported on the evictions that took place there in late 2006 and early 2007.
Canadian Mining on Trial: Guatemalan delegation travelling to Canada to challenge corporate impunity
Published by The Dominion, November 21, 2012
EL ESTOR, GUATEMALA—The rain won’t let up. It muddies the ground and pounds the corrugated metal roof of Angelica Choc’s house on the edge of the Guatemalan town of El Estor, enveloping the small gathering on the porch in a curtain of water. If it wasn’t for the violence surrounding a proposed nickel mine near the community, the evening’s gathering would likely have included her husband, Adolfo Ich. Maybe, at the end of the gathering, Ich would have taken out his guitar and begun an impromptu sing-a-long.
But there’s no celebration here. Instead, Choc sits on a plastic chair, sipping sweet coffee, talking through the logistics of an upcoming trip to Toronto with her sister-in-law, Maria Cuc Choc and their friend German Chub. All three are worried about how German, who is paralyzed from the waist down, will manage on the flight. What if he has to go to the bathroom on the plane, they wonder. They discuss what kind of clothes they might need for the cold. There are another two women accompanying them on the trip, and none of them own suitcases. The conversation slips back and forth between Spanish and Q’eqchi’, punctuated by laughter.
On the wall near the front door of Choc’s small wooden house is a simple altar in memory of her late husband. Two framed photos of Ich hang on the wall, his gaze straight and serious. His guitar hangs on the wall, gathering dust. A longtime Q’eqchi’ activist involved in various land struggles, Ich was murdered in September 2009 by private security guards in the employ of Hudbay Minerals.
“We’re going to travel [to Canada] because we want to demand justice,” Choc told The Dominion. “I have faith and hope that we’ll be successful. That’s what we want.” Choc, Chub, Cuc, and two others will travel to Canada for cross-examination by Hudbay’s legal team during the last week in November.
“This will be the first time, as far as I know, that individuals harmed by Canadian mining projects in other countries will have travelled to Canada to provide evidence for use in Canadian courts,” according to Grahame Russell of Rights Action, a solidarity organization involved in supporting community members resisting nickel mining in the El Estor region. “The questioning, under oath, will take place out of court and may be used in court.” (more…)
Here’s a short piece on CREOMPAZ, a military base with a history of terror and present-day peacekeeping operations. Published by Upside Down World.
COBAN, GUATEMALA—Since February, forensic anthropologists have turned up over 400 skeletons at a military base in Coban, Guatemala, in what has fast become one of the largest discoveries of a clandestine mass grave in the country. During the country’s 36 year long internal armed conflict that led to acts of genocide, the base at Coban was a center of military coordination and intelligence.
But what sets this dig apart is that it is taking place at a military base that remains active today: foreign military and police arrive regularly at the base to train troops from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. In 2006, the military zone in Coban was renamed CREOMPAZ, which stands for Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations.
The horrid history of the military base in Coban—and the impunity with which mass killings of men, women and children were carried out—provides a disturbing backdrop for present day “peacekeeping” operations.
Evidence of the ongoing excavation is all over Guatemala’s capital city, in the form of ads gracing billboards and bus stops. On the right hand side of the ad is a stock photo of a woman in a surgical mask, looking at a medical instrument. In Los Angeles, it might be a weight loss ad, in Houston, promotion for a private hospital. Not here. Instead, text across the top reads: “Do you have a family member disappeared between 1940 and 1996?” Then, “with DNA we are identifying them. A spit sample is enough.”
The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) put the ad campaign together in attempt to identify the skeletons of the disappeared by matching them with DNA from their living family members. FAFG anthropologists are at work around Guatemala, digging, dusting, recording and finally exhuming human remains.
CREOMPAZ is one of the largest current excavations. (more…)
En un sombrero lleno de tierra a punto de convertirse en barro, Rosli Oded y su marido, Aroldo Morales López, mecen a su hijo en la hamaca. La lluvia que resonaba sobre los tejados de chapa y los toldos durante la noche ha amainado finalmente, dando paso a una mañana fría y gris. La nueva familia nos ofrece café caliente y dulce, cocinado sobre una pequeña hoguera en un rincón de la chabola en la que llevan viviendo desde septiembre, cuando policías y soldados les obligaron a abandonar sus hogares.
Oded y Morales vuelven a ser campesinos sin tierras, como ya lo fueron cuando emigraron por primera vez a este lugar remoto de Guatemala para colaborar en la fundación de la comunidad de Nueva Esperanza, hace doce años. “Nos dijeron que había tierras, así que vinimos aquí”, afirma la madre de Oded, que vive en otra chabola al lado de su hija.
La comunidad original de Nueva Esperanza se estableció en el Parque Nacional Sierra del Lacandón, en el departamento de Petén, al norte de Guatemala, cerca de la frontera con México. El parque se creó en 1990, cuando la guerra civil todavía azotaba al país. Lo dirigen conjuntamente la organización no gubernamental privada Defensores de la Naturaleza y el Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (CONAP). Pero en lugar de ofrecer asistencia a una comunidad cuya huella ecológica es diminuta, (viven sin coches, agua corriente ni electricidad), el gobierno de Guatemala los echó. (more…)
Exigen a propietario británico de la principal empresa de electricidad en Guatemala respuesta ante asesinatos durante protestas
Por Dawn Paley y Jonathan Watts, 12 de octubre, 2012.
Se le ha exigido tomar acciones al grupo financiero británico después de que en Guatemala militares acribillaron a ocho indígenas que protestaban contra la proveedora de servicios públicos que pertenece a este grupo financiero, por los aumentos en las tarifas de la luz.
Nueve soldados, incluido un coronel serán sometidos a juicio por la represión que pretendía dispersar a los manifestantes que se oponían al incremento en los recibos expedidos por Energuate, perteneciente a Actis, empresa de capital privado escindida de la Institución Británica Financiera para el Desarrollo en 2004. Los miembros de la comunidad que participaron en las protestas contra Energuate dijeron que sus dueños británicos, así como el gobierno guatemalteco, deben tomar acciones para evitar tragedias similares en un futuro.
“Necesitan escuchar nuestras demandas… Como pueblos indígenas, nosotros estamos consumiendo su energía, y ellos se están enriquecido a costa de la gente”, comentó Juana Celestina Batz Puac, habitante de Totonicapan y testigo de los asesinatos. “Nuestras acciones son a causa de la electricidad”, dijo. (more…)
I had the chance a couple of weeks ago to head over to San José del Golfo and visit some of the folks holding down a camp in front of the entrance to a proposed mine. Yesterday, folks from the company tried to enter the site, and this morning I received two more messages that the community is preparing for another attempted incursion by workers of the company. I’ll do my best to keep folks posted. In the mean time, here’s the piece I wrote up after my brief visit to the site last month.
Guatemala: Peaceful Resistance in the Face of Violence, Upside Down World, October 24, 2012
Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz, who was nearly killed for her activism against mining in San José del Golfo, Guatemala, spoke out publicly Monday morning for the first time since the attack against her in June.
“I want to tell the world that here in Guatemala there is a peaceful resistance that exists, and we are prepared to stay here as long as possible,” said Oquelí, sitting upright on a plastic chair inside a permanent camp blocking the entrance to a proposed gold mine about 30km from Guatemala City. “We always hoped no blood would be spilled in this struggle, and personally mine did, but I think it has been a very important test and today I am back in action, and I know that they will not quiet me, while god gives me life I will continue.”
While Oquelí spoke, many of those active on the blockade gathered under the cover of the simple roadside shelter to listen. Other men stacked firewood, while children played along the edge of the camp. Some of the women prepared warm drinks and food to feed everyone at the camp, which has been permanently occupied since March of this year.
“I haven’t wanted to make statements or give interviews because in truth I didn’t want to talk about myself, I want the focus to be on the resistance, on the people who are present here,” said Oquelí.
Banners against mining and in solidarity with the blockade grace the side of the road, while a beat-up gate closes off the main entrance to the concession. Traffic on the dirt road was sparse, as it is well off the main highway, serving community members going from one village to another. Most would honk and wave as they rolled past; others would stop and say “hi” to the people on the side of the road.
Six teams of at least 10 adults take a weekly 24-hour shift and each week one team stays over on Sundays. No one lives permanently at the camp: every night, those who spend the night light a fire and rest, rising again to make breakfast for their whole group in the morning.
“The group leaders meet and they each tell their groups when their shifts will be, what is planned for the weekend, if there are meetings, and if there is new information,” said Miguel Antonio Muraller, who has been active in the blockade since the outset. “That’s how we communicate so that we’re all aware of what’s going on.” (more…)
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 October 2012 19.20 BST
A British financial group has been urged to take action after six indigenous protesters in Guatemala were shot dead by the military during a demonstration against an electricity price increase by one of the group’s utilities.
Nine soldiers including a colonel will go on trial over the deadly crackdown, which aimed to clear a road of demonstrators opposed to rising energy bills issued by Energuate, a company majority-owned by Actis, a private investment firm spun off from CDC, Britain’s development finance arm, in 2004.
People who took part in the protest against Energuate said Actis and the Guatemalan government must prevent similar incidents.
“Our demands need to be listened to … As indigenous people we are consuming their energy, but they are getting rich off the people,” said Juana Celestina Batz Puac, who lives in Totonicapán and witnessed the killings. “Our actions are directly linked to electricity.” (more…)