Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Join NISGUA & CODIDENA on our 2015 tour!

We are excited to announce that NISGUA’s 2015 speaking tour will feature the Diocesan Committee in Defense of Nature (CODIDENA) - the grassroots organizers behind widespread opposition to Tahoe Resources' mine in Guatemala. The two-week tour begins October 12 in Reno, Nevada and will travel through Midwest and the Northeast before ending in Boston on October 26.

CODIDENA leader Llan Carlos Dávila will talk about efforts to peacefully halt the development of Tahoe Resources' Escobal silver mine through popular education, grass-roots base building and the organization of six municipal referenda. Llan Carlos will also detail the ongoing threats he and other CODIDENA leaders face due to their efforts to stop Tahoe's expansion in the region.

Visit our event page on Facebook or follow @NISGUA_Guate on twitter for live tour updates. We hope you can join us!



Hosted by: PLAN Nevada and Reno Justice Coalition

Rally @ the Reno Arch Downtown

Community Event with Dr. Debra Harry
Joe Crowley Student Union
1664 N Virginia St
Reno, NV

Hosted by: Chicago Religious Leadership Network and Northwestern University


9:40-11:10 AM
Public Presentation
De Paul University - Arts and Letters Hall, Room 209
2315 N Kenmore
Chicago, IL

2:15-3:45 PM
Public Presentation
Collaboratory for Urban and Intercultural Learning
North Park University - Caroline Hall
3225 W. Foster
Chicago, IL


7:00-8:30 PM
Public Presentation
Buffett Institute for Global Studies
Northwestern University
1902 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208

Hosted by: Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe

Community exchange

Hosted by: The Lakes Area Group Organizing Solidarity for Guatemala (LAGOS)


Church Forum
First Unitarian Society
900 Mt. Curve Avenue
Minneapolis, MN

Public Presentation
Mayflower Church
106 E Diamond Lake Road
Minneapolis, MN

Community Event
Gandhi Mahal
3009 27th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN

Monday, OCTOBER 19

Community Event
1915 Chicago Avenue
Minneapolis, MN

Public Presentation
Macalester College
Carnagie Room 304
St. Paul, MN

Hosted by: University of Wisconsin – La Crosse


Public Presentation
Hall of Nations
University of Wisconsin La Crosse
La Crosse, WI

Hosted by: Local GAP Former Accompaniers and NISGUA supporters


Brown Bag Lunch sponsored by CLACS @ NYU
King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, Room 404
53 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012

6:00-8:00 PM
Community Event -- LIVE STREAM on CUNY TV
CUNY Graduate Center -- Segal Theatre
365 5th Avenue, NYC
Co-sponsored by Skylight Pictures

Friday, October 23

7:00-8:30 PM
Community Event
Saint Columba Church
Downstairs meeting room of the Rectory
343 West 25th Street, NYC

Hosted by: Needham Congregational Church & GAP Former Accompaniers 


Community Event
Co-sponsored by Rhode Island Jobs with Justice & Bell Street Chapel
5 Bell Street
Providence, RI

Community Event
Needham Congregational Church
1154 Great Plain Avenue
Needham, MA


Brown Bag Lunch sponsored by CLACS @ Brown University
Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room
111 Thayer Street
Providence, RI

Public Presentation
Hosted by the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy
65 Forsyth, Dockser Hall, Room 230
Boston, MA

Retrial for Ríos Montt to take place behind closed doors

Legal battles over Efraín Ríos Montt's health have taken center stage over the past three months in the decades-long search for justice for genocide in Guatemala. 

On August 25, the three-judge tribunal ruled that Ríos Montt is mentally unfit to stand trial due to chronic and irreversible dementia. The court ordered that Montt be assigned a legal representative to allow for a special trial to continue without the former dictator's physical presence.

This decision comes after months of set backs and debates regarding Montt's health. In July, his defense attempted to permanently stall proceedings by presenting a medical evaluation claiming the former general did not have the mental capacity to stand trial. Given the fact that he was heavily sedated during the examination, the court dismissed the report and ordered him to undergo a full medical review by state-appointed specialists. The new review came to similar conclusions, stating that Montt has vascular dementia in addition to various other physical ailments. While Montt's defense attempted to use this new review as a reason to dismiss the case, the prosecution requested he be appointed a legal advocate in order for the retrial to continue.

This retrial, scheduled to begin on January 11, 2016, will take place behind closed doors, excluding the press and international and national observers. The court stated that the victims would be allowed to attend, but did not outline who is considered to be a victim in a case that involves the murder of 1,771 people in 15 massacres. Given the circumstances, this special retrial cannot result in a verdict that includes prison time; instead, if Montt is found guilty, he will likely be detained in a psychiatric facility. 

In a decision disputed by both the defense and the prosecution, the judges refused to separate the cases of Ríos Montt and former head of military intelligence Rodríguez Sánchez, and instead, ruled that the men will continue to be tried for genocide and crimes against humanity together.

As this process drags on in a national justice system plagued with rampant impunity and corruption, NISGUA continues to stand with the victims and survivors in upholding the 2013 condemnatory sentence against a mentally-fit Ríos Montt. We honor the testimonies that led to the conviction and dignify the men and women who tirelessly continue to fight for justice.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Crumbling political support for Tahoe Resources in Guatemala

Article written in collaboration with MiningWatch Canada and the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network

If the militarized security strategy that Tahoe Resources has used to put its Escobal silver mine into operation isn’t enough to raise questions about the ethics of the company’s operations in Guatemala, the recent resignation of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina should be. Pérez Molina stepped down on September 2 after Congress voted to strip him of his political immunity. A week later, he was indicted on charges of illicit association, customs fraud, and bribery for his involvement in a customs network that robbed tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Rewind to July 2013, when former President Otto Pérez Molina made a personal site visit to the Escobal mine located in San Rafael las Flores in the department of Santa Rosa. The visit took place just a few months after Tahoe’s head of security was arrested for his role in the shooting of seven peaceful protesters and a subsequent month-long military state of siege was imposed on four municipalities in the area. While at the mine, Pérez Molina mingled with workers and filmed a national television address affirming support for the project. 

Former President Otto Pérez Molina poses with Escobal mine
workers. Photo: Tahoe Resources

Today, Pérez Molina is accused of heading “La Linea” customs network that is said to have benefited transnational companies by offering lower tariffs in exchange for handsome pay-offs to politicians. Vice-president Roxana Baldetti has also been indicted on the same charges and over a dozen cabinet ministers potentially implicated in the fraud scandal have resigned, including Minister of Energy and Mines, Erik Archila. Archila approved Tahoe’s exploitation license in April 2013 without taking into consideration over 250 individual complaints filed against the license for potential impacts on water and health of the local population.

While it is unclear if Tahoe or other North American mining companies benefited from the fraud ring, the company’s cozy relationship with Otto Pérez Molina's scandal-ridden government has been well documented. During his administration, state-sponsored repression plagued communities in resistance to Tahoe and has facilitated the imposition of the Escobal mine against the will of the local population. 

It is too soon to know how the recent general election results may change this arrangement, but cracks have already started to show at the local level where Tahoe has also relied on close political relationships. 

Cracks in Tahoe’s privileged political support

During the past four years, Tahoe has relied on the mayor of San Rafael Las Flores to prevent local communities from holding a referendum about whether or not they want mining in their municipality. While the six municipalities surrounding the Escobal mine held referenda overwhelmingly rejecting mining, residents of San Rafael las Flores were denied this important opportunity. Instead, nine villages within the municipality organized their own referenda, in which the majority overwhelmingly rejected the Escobal mine. 

Results from Guatemala's general elections held September 6 indicate an important shift in support for Tahoe Resources in San Rafael las Flores, as well as in the surrounding areas. In San Rafael Las Flores, Roberto Pivaral, member of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace who was an early victim of Tahoe's strategy to criminalize opponents, won enough support in rural areas of the municipality to win the mayoral race on a pro-referendum platform. 

Municipalities surrounding Tahoe’s Escobal project vote against mining

In the neighboring municipality of Mataquescuintla, where 96% of voters opposed mining in a 2012 referendum, Hugo Loy was re-elected as mayor. Loy has openly opposed Tahoe’s presence in the region and has fought hard to uphold the results of the 2012 vote by opposing the construction of an electrical line between Mataquescuintla and the Escobal mine. Opponents to mining in Mataquescuintla have faced severe threats and violence, including the 2014 attack in which 16-year old Topacio Reynoso was murdered and her father Alex was seriously injured. 

Rejection of Tahoe Resources also came through loud and clear in two other municipalities close to the Escobal mine. In Santa Rosa de Lima, residents ousted the candidate who had accepted royalty payments from the company, and instead, elected community leader and pro-referendum candidate, Llan Carlos Dávila. In Nueva Santa Rosa, voters re-elected the current mayor who, due to community pressure, has so far upheld the results of the consultation and refused to accept mining royalties. 

Tahoe Resources' selective amnesia

In a press release issued following President Pérez Molina’s resignation, Tahoe Resources asserted that all is calm in Guatemala and that business will continue as usual. Tahoe expressed support for acting President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, who became Vice President after the resignation of Roxana Baldetti. Tahoe stated Maldonado has been "the force of calm in the country" and that "his leadership has been viewed within Guatemala as very positive." 

However, Tahoe fails to mention that Maldonado, a former Constitutional Court judge is also a founding member of the now non-existent National Liberation Movement party (MLN in Spanish), an extreme right-wing political party known for its connection to death squads in the 1960s. The company also doesn't say that during his time in the Constitutional Court, Maldonado voted to annul the historic 2013 genocide sentence and one year later, voted for the early removal of respected Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. 

Finally, Tahoe assures investors that, “The embassies of Canada and the United States are heavily involved in assisting and supporting the Guatemalan government’s efforts to maintain order and peace and assure stability during these difficult times." But, far from deserving congratulatory remarks for their role, serious questions should be raised about what North American Embassies in Guatemala might have known about rampant corruption in the Otto Pérez Molina administration, and be challenged for their willingness to demonstrate support for such a repressive regime in order to protect Canadian and U.S. economic interests in the country. Rather than providing staunch support to ensure the interests of mining companies, such as Tahoe Resources, Goldcorp, Kappes, Cassidy & Associates and others, they should order investigations as to whether these companies were at all benefiting from the customs fraud ring and make a commitment not to provide any support for mining activities where communities have not given their consent.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina resigns, detained on charges of corruption

On Tuesday, September 8, former President Otto Pérez Molina was indicted on charges of customs fraud, illicit association, and bribery in connection with "La Línea," a customs fraud network accused of stealing millions of dollars from the Guatemalan state. Given the number of people still being investigated in connection with La Línea, Judge Galvéz ordered that Molina be sent to preventative prison while he awaits trial so as to not pose a threat to the integrity of ongoing investigations. The prosecution team have been given three months to build their case, with an expected trial opening date of December 21.

Late last night Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was forced to resign after more than four months of massive popular protests throughout the country. On Tuesday, Congress unanimously voted to strip Pérez Molina of his presidential immunity, after evidence provided by the Public Prosecutor and International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) directly implicated him in the customs fraud network, “La Linea." An arrest warrant was issued for the President Wednesday afternoon and he resigned just hours later. Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti are accused of heading the criminal network that defrauded the state of at least $3.7 million.

Former President Otto Pérez Molina listens to the criminal
charges of corruption against him. Photo: Roderico Y. Díaz

Vice President Alejandro Maldonado, who was named to the position after Roxana Baldetti was forced to resign, assumed the presidency this afternoon. Maldonado is the founder of a political party known for promoting organized violence and death squadrons during the 1960s and 1970s. He was also one of the Constitutional Court judges who voted to overturn the historic 2013 ruling that sentenced former de facto dictator Efraín Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. 

This morning, Pérez Molina appeared before Judge Miguel Gálvez to give his first declaration and hear the charges against him, which include illicit association, bribery and customs fraud. The Prosecution played hours of wiretap recordings throughout the day, laying out the hierarchy of the criminal structure before revealing recordings directly implicating the President. Deemed a flight risk, Judge Gálvez ordered Pérez Molina to spend the night in custody at the Matamoros military prison. The hearing is expected to continue tomorrow. 

Today Guatemalans celebrate this incredible victory, born of months of resistance in the streets and decades of resilience in the face of structural corruption, racism and violence. However, we know the struggle is far from over. Calls for electoral reform were recently struck down in Congress, and all signs point to elections taking place as scheduled this Sunday. Many Guatemalans have refused to accept this decision and have continued to protest outside the elections office demanding, “In these conditions, we do not want elections!” 

If the impressive show of Guatemalan people power so far is any indication, the charges officially lodged for corruption are just the beginning in the search for justice for Pérez Molina's crimes. The former general is also implicated in the genocide against the Ixil people and his administration is responsible for the criminalization and imprisonment of hundreds of human rights defenders and repression and violence against thousands of Guatemalans defending life and dignity at La Puya encampment, in Totonicapan, San Rafael las Flores, Santa Cruz Barillas and many more.

The past four months have seen people from all walks of life take to the streets in protest in Guatemala - some for the first time and some for the hundredth. Meeting spaces have given birth to new proposals for movement building and structural change that will have impacts reaching far beyond Pérez Molina's resignation. The value of memory has been strong over the past four months, with many references being made to the 1944 revolution and the ten years of spring. As one sign read: "WE ARE HERE...for those who dreamed and struggle for a better country."