Thursday, October 15, 2015

Expression of solidarity with the Duwamish Tribe in their struggle for tribal recognition

When Víctor Caal Tzuy from ACODET came to the U.S. last year on NISGUA's "Rivers for Life" tour, he met with Ken Workman, Duwamish Tribal Council Member and direct descendent of Chief Si'ahl. Both men shared common experiences as indigenous people, fighting for their communities and the health of their rivers in the face of displacement. While Víctor described the devastating effects the proposed Xalalá Dam would have on his community, Ken reflected on the ongoing injustices committed against the Duwamish Tribe as they struggle to obtain the rights and recognition due to them under the Point Elliot Treaty. 

On July 2, 2015, the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied Federal Tribal Recognition to the Duwamish Tribe. 

ACODET and NISGUA condemn this decision, and call on President Obama and other related authorities to immediate restore recognition to the Duwamish people. We are grateful for the warm welcome the Duwamish Tribal Council and the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center gave to ACODET and NISGUA during our 2014 tour, and we continue to stand with them in their struggle for recognition and self-determination.

Please read the full letter below and considering adding your name. Send to bridget[at] and we will ensure its delivery to the appropriate authorities and Duwamish Longhouse.

Víctor Caal Tzuy and Ken Workman meet on the 2014
"Rivers for Life" speaking tour. Photo credit: NISGUA


16 September, 2015

To Whom It May Concern:

On behalf of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), we write to express our support to the Duwamish Tribe in their ongoing struggle to obtain the rights and recognition due to them under the Point Elliott Treaty, signed by Chief Si’ahl. NISGUA is a grassroots organization that builds ties between North America and Guatemala, supporting human rights advocates, survivors of genocide, and indigenous communities defending their rights to life and territory. As such, we feel driven to condemn the July, 2, 2015 decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to deny Federal Tribal Recognition to the Duwamish Tribe.

In August of last year, we had the immense privilege to be received by tribal representatives at the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center in Seattle, along with Víctor Caal Tzuy, a Maya Q’eqchi’ leader of the Association of Communities for Development, Defense of Territory and Natural Resources (ACODET). On his U.S. tour, entitled “Rivers for Life: Cultural Resistance to the Xalalá” dam, Víctor spoke about the threats posed to his community by a proposed hydroelectric project, which the Guatemalan government has attempted to impose without prior, informed consent from local indigenous communities.

At the Duwamish Longhouse, Víctor met Ken Workman, Duwamish Tribal Council Member and direct descendent of Chief Si’ahl. Víctor and Ken found common ground as indigenous people with shared legacies of river stewardship and common experiences of displacement from colonization. “Ken and I have much in common–we both live on the shores of rivers, and we will defend our rivers,” reflected Víctor. Ken drew connections between past suffering of the Duwamish people and the current situation facing Q'eqchi' communities opposing the Xalalá Dam. “The potential effects on culture and environment that Victor describes are exactly what occurred here in Seattle 100 years ago."

In his conversation with Víctor Caal Tuzy, Tribal Council Member Workman described the historical injustices perpetrated against the Duwamish people, including the draining of the Black River, the channeling of the Duwamish River, the burning of Duwamish Longhouses by settlers, city ordinances banning indigenous people from living within Seattle city limits, and many others. At the time, we hoped that the Duwamish Tribe might soon win a small measure of reparation by finally achieving Federal Tribal Recognition. Instead, the Obama Administration and its representatives in the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are perpetuating the long legacy of colonial injustice faced by the Duwamish.

We call on President Obama, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Washburn, and the U.S. Congress to immediately act to restore Federal Tribal Recognition to the Duwamish.

We thank the Duwamish Tribal Council and the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center for welcoming Víctor Caal Tzuy of ACODET and members of NISGUA on their territory.

In heartfelt solidarity with the Duwamish Tribe in their struggle for justice,


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tahoe Resources kicks out peaceful protesters from Reno offices during the launch of the 2015 Tahoe on Trial speaking tour

Criminalizing protest and free speech across borders

NISGUA’s Tahoe on Trial speaking tour kicked off yesterday by going right to the U.S. source - Tahoe’s U.S. headquarters in Reno, Nevada. We were honored to join local indigenous leaders and activists organized with the Nevada Progressive Leadership Alliance (PLAN Nevada) in downtown Reno for a rally to commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day and draw connections between grassroots struggles across borders. Together with other speakers, CODIDENA representative Llan Carlos Dávila denounced the neo-colonization of community lands through the imposition of resource extraction activities without consent, ongoing militarization and racism.

Activists gather underneath Reno's archway on Indigenous
Peoples' Day to denounce the company's abuses in Guatemala.
Photo: Jose Olivares
Those who spoke drew connections between the struggles to defend land and natural resources of indigenous and First Nations people in the U.S. and Canada with those opposing transnational mining in Guatemala. 

From there, a handful of supporters brought concerns directly to Tahoe Resources’ offices about the ways the company is contributing to human rights violations around its Escobal mine in southeastern Guatemala. For years, CODIDENA and other communities impacted by Tahoe’s mine have called on the company to respect the results of consultations that have taken place in municipalities around the mine, where more than 55,000 people have voted against the mine’s presence. Communities have continuously denounced the repressive and violent tactics used against peaceful protesters, including legal charges brought against more than 90 people since 2011 for vocally opposing the mine. All cases have been thrown out for lack of evidence, but still, Tahoe hasn’t listened. 

Llan Carlos Dávila (CODIDENA) talks about increased militarization
since Tahoe's arrival to southeastern Guatemala. Photo: Jose Olivares

Unfortunately, this pattern of silencing criticism and criminalizing dissent continued at the company’s Reno office. Instead of receiving the 15 or so CODIDENA supporters who went into the office, Tahoe’s Head of Investor Relations Ira Gostin immediately informed us that we were trespassing. Instead of respectfully listening to PLAN Nevada’s concerns about Tahoe’s operations in Guatemala, Gostin told PLAN they were misinformed. Instead of talking with NISGUA about allegations of violence by Tahoe’s private security in Guatemala, Gostin called the police. 

Tahoe's Head of Investor Relations, Ira Gostin, calls the police
instead of listening to community concerns. Photo: Jose Olivares
Tahoe’s corporate strategy has been to respond to criticism and opposition with criminalization. No doubt, the scale of repression in the United States is significantly different than the scale of repression in Guatemala. But the core reaction is the same. Tahoe attempts to silence dissent using fear, but communities continue to show that they cannot be bullied into standing aside. 

At the rally earlier in the day, Pãpalōtl of the Nahuatl Nation read a quote from Waziyatawin, a Dakota professor, author, and activist from the Pezihutazizi Otunwe in southwestern Minnesota. She says: “We live in a police state. The most powerful nation on Earth uses force or the threat of force to maintain control over indigenous peoples, land and resources. According to the occupiers, the only acceptable response to this is compliance. That we must accept the threat of our lands, the rape of our mother Earth and our own subjection. If we do not, we are criminalized, incarcerated or killed.” She finished with this rallying call, “Yet today, we are here, brothers and sisters, to let them know we are still here and we will resist until the end, all for our sacred waters and our Mother Earth.”

On the 2015 Tahoe on Trial tour, NISGUA and CODIDENA are bringing the voices of those most impacted by Tahoe’s Escobal mine to the United States. Click here to find out three tangible things you can do right now to support impacted communities as they denounce ongoing militarization as a result of Tahoe's mining activities. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for live tour updates, and click here to find a tour stop near you! 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Three things you can do to halt Tahoe Resources' expansion in Guatemala!

For the past five years, communities impacted by Tahoe Resources' Escobal mine in southeastern Guatemala have stood up to peacefully defend their lands and livelihoods. The Diocesan Committee in the Defense of Nature (CODIDENA) has led this movement – organizing and carrying out community referenda in which more than 55,000 people in seven municipalities voted against the silver mine. Despite this clear message, Tahoe and the Guatemalan government have pushed the project forward, using violent repression, criminalization and militarization in an attempt silence the resistance.

But the resistance didn’t go away. Today, thousands of brave women and men continue to seek out new, creative and resilient ways to express their opposition to Tahoe’s Escobal project and to halt the company’s plans to develop more mines in the region.

This October, CODIDENA and NISGUA will visit seven states across the US to call attention to Tahoe's human rights violations in Guatemala and to build solidarity across borders. Upon return, we will meet with the US Embassy in Guatemala to demand accountability for US – Canadian companies operating in Guatemala with impunity but without the consent of impacted communities.

Here are three things you can do to support communities in resistance to Tahoe Resources:

Step 1: Call and Email Your Elected Representatives

Tell the US government: Tahoe Resources contributes to human rights violations in Guatemala!

*Find contact information for your representative by visiting

Hello, my name is ____________________, and I am deeply concerned that North American mining companies are contributing to human rights violations in Guatemala. There is mounting evidence that Tahoe Resources, a company operating in Guatemala with headquarters in Nevada and Vancouver, collaborated with the Guatemalan military and a US private security company to suppress local opposition to their Escobal silver mine through the criminalization of protest and violent repression. Today, military outposts line the highway on either side of the mine, intimidating communities who have consistently and democratically voted against mining in their territory.

The abusive actions of US companies abroad is a US problem and requires US government response. I ask that you share this information and concern with Roberta Jacobson, head of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the US State Department and Todd Robinson, US Ambassador to Guatemala.

Step 2: Join our Thunderclap

Upon return from the tour, we will meet with the US Embassy to raise concerns about human rights violations around the Escobal mine. Show that you stand with CODIDENA in opposing Tahoe Resources in Guatemala by adding your voice to our Thunderclap. The day before the meeting, this messages will be posted from your Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr account along with messages from hundreds of others!

Continue the conversation! During the month of October, directly ask the US Embassy some hard questions about Tahoe’s operations in Guatemala. Here are some samples: 
  • #TahoeResources boasts popular support. So why hire a US company with operations in Iraq to develop its security strategy? @usembassyguate
  • How can #TahoeResources be allowed to ignore 55,000+ votes against mining by communities neighboring the #Escobal mine? @usembassyguate

Step 3: Show Your Solidarity - a picture is worth 1000 words

Mine-impacted communities want us to know that despite repression and militarization, they are still resisting Tahoe's operations and expansion. Let them know that you stand with them by taking a picture of yourself with a sign expressing your solidarity. Use the hashtag #StillHereWithYou or #SeguimosConUstedes and #TahoeOnTrial. Tag NISGUA on Facebook or Twitter!

Erick Fernando Castillo, one of the men who was
shot outside the Escobal mine, poses in front of the
resistance camp. Photo credit: Giles Clarke 

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." 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Despite the arrest of former VP Roxana Baldetti, President Otto Pérez Molina says he won't step down

On Friday, the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and Public Prosecutor's office revealed evidence connecting Guatemala President Otto Pérez Molina to the massive customs corruption network known as La Línea. Prosecutors have filed a legal motion to strip Pérez Molina of his presidential immunity – the second action of its kind to be filed in the last 3 months.

For the eighteenth week in a row, protesters from across the country took to the streets to demand the President's resignation. At least of 16 members of his cabinet and other high-level posts have resigned; 11 did so after new evidence was released on Friday directly implicating the president. As Pérez Molina's government crumbled around him Sunday night, he dug in his heels - refusing to step down and proclaiming his innocence in a televised address.

Despite being more isolated than ever, the President remained combative in his address, denouncing foreign intervention and alluding that powerful economic interests from the Chamber of Commerce (CACIF) are conspiring against him. During the speech, which is being described as a “declaration of war" against CACIF, Pérez Molina threatened to push Guatemala even closer to the edge of complete political turmoil as nation-wide strikes and ongoing protests are expected to ramp up this week.

Wiretaps, emails, and other documents revealed on Friday and presented as evidence in court this morning accuse former Vice President Roxana Baldetti and President Pérez Molina of heading the criminal structure La Línea. The customs fraud network is believe to have stolen more than 8 million quetzals. In the wiretaps, Molina and Baldetti are referred to as “the 1”, “the 2”, “the head of the plantation”, and "the mera mera (the head honcho)." In a Monday morning interview, Attorney General Thelma Aldana made clear that the President himself was caught on tape communicating with the criminal network.

Above tweets:  In wiretaps where the President is identified, the public prosecutor states, "It is inevitable, because his telephone has not been tapped." 1/2; But he communicates with the criminal structure, who have their telephones tapped, and we heard him." 2/2

On Friday, the public prosecutor immediately filed a request to strip the President of his immunity, while Baldetti was arrested and transferred from the private hospital where she had sought refuge to Matamoros military prison in zone 1 of Guatemala City. While Matamoros has been exclusively for male prisoners, a reform published this morning - three days after Baldetti was arrested - changed the rules to allow women. 

The first attempt to remove Pérez Molina's immunity was filed by Congressman Amilcar Pop in June and was unanimously accepted by the Supreme Court. And while a congressional investigative commission recommended stripping immunity and opening the president up to a full investigation, the recommendation only earned 88 of the 105 congressional votes necessary to proceed. This decision was rejected by protesters and political analysts alike – further evidence that the political system is irrevocably broken and electoral reforms are absolutely necessary. 

The latest request to strip President Molina of his immunity will likely be accepted by the Supreme Court, although questions remain as to how Congress will react. Some believe that Pérez Molina's surprising decision to stay in power hinges on his belief that his allies - including presidential hopeful Manuel Baldizón and other Molina supporters who make up the LIDER-Partido Patriota alliance - will save him from immediate prosecution by maintaining his presidential immunity.

In the meantime, Guatemalans remain vigilant as rumors circulate that the President will attempt to flee the country. Citizens presented a legal action Sunday morning requiring a judge to physically locate Pérez after the president failed to appear in public for 48 hours. He was eventually located mid-day Sunday at the Presidential Palace in zone 1.

Roxana Baldetti's arraignment hearing took place Monday morning, during which time the prosecution laid out the groundwork for its case against the former Vice President. She is accused of illicit association, passive bribery and special cases of customs fraud for her involvement in the La Línea.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Take Action: Call on the U.S. Embassy to stand up for political prisoners Saúl and Rogelio

On September 1, Barillas land defenders Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez will stand trial again for accessory to murder. Citing serious irregularities and major errors in the initial trial earlier this year that condemned both men to 33 years and 4 months in prison, a Special Appeals court ruled on May 15 to annul the sentence and ordered the case be retried.

Both men have spoken out against the imposition of hydroelectric dams in their home in northern Huehuetenango and, like many other leaders, are now feelings the effects of a pattern of criminalization that has increased dramatically over the past few years. 

TAKE ACTION to help ensure Saúl and Rogelio get a fair trial!

Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez, during their Special
Appeal trial. Photo: Gustavo Illescas (CMI-Guatemala)
Currently, six other men from Huehuetenango are detained and awaiting trial for outlandish legal charges that include terrorism and kidnapping - all are active community leaders who have organized to demand respect for their right to consultation regarding the imposition of mega-development projects in their territory. Across the United States, members of the NISGUA base are writing letters of encouragement to all of the leaders from Huehuetenango currently imprisoned for standing up for life. Click here to send a message of solidarity to the political prisoners and let them know they are not alone.

For more information, read NISGUA's report on the movement for community referenda on mining and hydroelectric dams and the corresponding trend of criminalizing leaders standing up against unjust resource extraction. 

Both Saúl and Rogelio are accused of being accomplices in the assassination of Guadalupe Francisco and Mateo Diego Simón, killed by a mob of roughly 500 people in 2010. Despite serious holes in the prosecution's evidence - including shaky witness testimonies and an inability to place both men at the scene of the crime - a Huehuetenango court found both men guilty of being accomplices to murder in February 2015. Saúl and Rogelio were previously detained from May 2012 – January 2013, accused by Spanish company, Hidro Santa Cruz of causing disturbances associated with the assassination of community member Andrés Francisco Miguel, on May 1 2012. 

The retrial will open on September 1 and is expected to take a month and a half. If everything moves forward as scheduled, the sentencing hearing will take place on October 13, 2015. 

Family members of the accused are calling for an international presence at the retrial, including from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, as one way to ensure that Saúl and Rogelio get a fair trial. TAKE ACTION! Call on the U.S. Embassy to recognize the intentional manipulation of the Guatemalan justice system by transnational corporations, and observe the retrial. All signatures will be collected before August 21 to be turned in to the Embassy prior to the start of the retrial on September 1. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

For there to be peace in Barillas...

Original article posted on CMI-Guatemala in Spanish on August 11, 2015.
Written by Alba Cecilia Mérida
Translation by NISGUA

Juanita López from Santa Eulalia, wife of Domingo Baltazar
Photo: Roderico Díaz (CMI-Guatemala)
On August 8, beneath the energy and protection of Kawok - symbolizing the strength of unity and wisdom - hundreds of women, men, boys, girls, youth, and the elderly gathered in the central park of Santa Cruz Barillas to celebrate life and come together for an Artistic-Cultural Gathering for Peace in Santa Cruz Barillas and Freedom for Political Prisoners. 

Youth from Huehuetenango paint posts in Barillas.
Photo: Gustavo Illescas (CMI-Guatemala)
This gathering is a continuation of many other encounters, caravans, demonstrations, and political actions that have taken place over the years. But now, more than ever, these actions are demanding the timely release of our compañeros from northern Huehuetenango who are being held as political prisoners: Don Tello Villatoro, Don Chico Palas, Arturo Pablo, Saúl Méndez, Rogelio Velásquez, Mynor López, Ermitanio López, as well as Rigoberto Juárez and Domingo Baltazar, from Santa Eulalia.

The gathering began on Friday, August 7 when 108 people departed from Guatemala City, Totonicapán, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, and from various municipalities of Huehuetenango. Friends from other countries came to join the gathering, where musicians, singers, artists, poets, dancers, rappers, rockers, jugglers, alternative journalists, and other researchers poured all of our creativity and hope into one single demand: FREEDOM for our People. 

From left to right: Tito Medina (Guatemala), Alfredo Rafael (San
Juan Ixcoy), Juan Pablo Ozaeta (Guatemala) and Byron Sosa
(Quetzaltenango). Photo: Gustavo Illescas (CMI-Guatemala)

The day was a gift from our Mother Earth; we felt joy, the sun, art, the wind, dignity. We felt the strength of each person who joined us before [the caravan] left for Barillas. Their support, generosity and solidarity were fundamental in being able to say to the people of Barillas: "Here we are. You are not alone. We are not alone." In the strict sense, those of us who attended the gathering were not giving, supporting or helping; on the contrary, with our presence, we were returning the sacrifices made by the people of Barillas, Santa Eulalia and others in the region. It is they who have experienced first-hand the merciless attacks by the corporate criminal, Hidro Santa Cruz. 

At one moment during the day, Juan Aguirre, one of the singers at the gathering, told Doña Ana Molina, the wife of Don Tello Villatoro: "I cannot come close to imagining your suffering." Yet when he sang, he reminded us that dreams can become reality and that these dreams are enough to encourage us to not back down from the struggle each of us carry or from the struggle that depends on each of us.

Rock group "Perro con Alas." Photo: Gustavo Illescas (CMI-Guatemala)
The Artistic-Cultural Gathering for Peace in Santa Cruz Barillas and for Freedom for Political Prisoners included the participation of people from the grassroots and from all four corners. This movement has been articulate and mindful, and has presented creative proposals that rise above the oppression imposed by systems that promote death: political parties, transnational companies, racism, and the State of Guatemala, which at all costs, seeks to crush any sign of the dignity of our peoples. 

At different moments throughout the day, we couldn't hold back our tears. One such moment was when Mónica Castañeda, Arturo Pablo's wife, cried when she emphatically said "I know my Arturo. He has only defended his people. That's why they have imprisoned him."

Mónica Castañeda, wife of the teacher Arturo Pablo.
Photo: Roderico Díaz (CMI-Guatemala)
Other moments, only some of us were able to experience. Don Pablo Antonio Pablo was speaking with Rubén, and when I saw them speaking in hushed voices I asked, "What happened?" Rubén said, "He is very sad." And Don Pablo cried, and cried, and cried for his son. All he could say was "I am sad for my Arturo, but I bless you because you are here with us." I saw a man sitting on a corner for several hours. I saw him nodding along to many of the things that were being said, and at one point, he came over to me and said, "I am Saúl's father. I came to get to know those who are supporting my son." The tears overflowed and the deep sadness swept across the park for each one of the sons, husbands, brothers, grandfathers who are now absent because they are imprisoned. 

Once more, the wives and other family members of the political prisoners showed the deep love they have for and can give to the defense of their life partners. The composure and the strength Doña Ana, Doña Priscila, Doña Guadalupe, Doña Juanita, Carmelia, Zenaida, Juanita, and Mónica possess is a source of inspiration and encourages us to continue to accompany them.

The messages of peaceful resistance from the people of Barillas in the face of repression from Hidro Santa Cruz were overwhelmingly clear: "We want Peace. We respect Mother Earth. We don't want any more plundering or violence." More than once, people repeated the phrase: "There is no price on our dignity."

Doña Guadalupe, wife of Don Chico Palas.
Photo: Roderico Díaz (CMI-Guatemala)

Each artistic performance moved us. Seldom are we able to connect the energy of those of us who need to live life with intensity and fullness, but this connection of energy took place throughout that beautiful day. I'll close these few words now with a poem written by Eulalia Hermelinda, an 11-year-old girl from Santa Cruz Barillas. She wrote about what needs to happen so that we all can have peace.


For there to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.

For there to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.

For there to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbors.

For there to be peace between neighbors,

There must be peace in the homes.

For there to be peace in the homes,

There must be peace in the hearts.

For there to be peace in Barillas,

The Political Prisoners must return to their homes. 

Members of the women's group Akabal. Left: poet Eulalia Hermelinda.
Photo: Roderico Díaz (CMI-Guatemala)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ríos Montt ordered to undergo a full psychiatric review

"We can't allow the massacres in our communities to remain in impunity. We've already achieved our sentence, but we're ready for it to be declared a second time because we know there was genocide." - Julia Cortéz, spokesperson for the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), plaintiff in the genocide case.

Questions surrounding ex-general Ríos Montt's health and mental capacities took center stage on Thursday during attempts to restart the Guatemala genocide trial, ending in a court order to intern the former dictator for ten days at the Federico Mora psychiatric hospital. Judge María Eugenia Castellanos, president of the High Risk Crimes Court Tribunal B, ordered Ríos Montt to undergo a physical and psychiatric review to determine whether he is mentally fit to be re-tried. This order was undermined by a series of legal actions by the defense; the first, a habeas corpus filed with a separate court, which halted the transfer scheduled for Saturday, July 25. Ríos Montt was eventually granted the right to be evaluated in a private facility.

The July 23 decision came after 8 hours of fits and starts in the proceedings due to a procedural delay in the morning, multiple defense arguments that the ex-general was unable to move or stand trial and technical problems with the internet teleconference in Ríos Montt's home. The Public Prosecutor slammed the INACIF (National Forensic Institute) report issued two weeks ago, claiming Ríos Montt is unfit to stand trial, or even be re-evaluated. The report describes that at the time of the evaluation, Ríos Montt was under the influence of medications which could present a serious health risk to the 89-year old, including Olanzapine (anti-psychotic), Tramadol (opiod) and Valdure (analgesic). Other anomalies in the INACIF report were the use of a psychological and not psychiatric methodology, and that Ríos Montt’s private physician and his daughter, presidential candidate Zury Ríos, were the only people present at the evaluation.

After a long deliberation, the tribunal ordered the ten-day internment at the state-run mental health facility for a full physical and psychiatric evaluation. That Ríos Montt was ordered to Federico Mora, a state mental health facility with a reputation for its poor conditions, caused surprise in the courtroom.

That Saturday morning, the Public Prosecutor and National Police arrived at Ríos Montt’s home to carry out the order issued by Tribunal B. However, the defendant’s lawyers appeared with notification of a last-minute habeas corpus, provisionally approved by the Femicide Appeals Court, which sought to prevent his transfer by requesting a personal appearance in court. The same Femicide Court rejected the request just four days later, but the defense immediately filed and was granted another appeal with a separate court that once again stalled Ríos Montt's transfer to the state facility and instead ordered his internment in a private hospital.

All parties went back to court on August 4 at which time the Tribunal B upheld the ruling by the lower court by agreeing to allow Ríos Montt to be evaluated at a private facility. In a hearing scheduled for August 18, the Tribunal B will evaluate the results of the new psychiatric examination and determine if Ríos Montt is mentally fit to stand trial.

This is the second attempt to restart the trial after the Constitutional Court overturned the 2013 verdict sentencing Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Ixil people. Judge recusal motions and claims that Ríos Montt is unfit to stand trial have been the primary strategy of the defense in stalling the opening of the second public hearing. Until the issue of Ríos Montt’s evaluation is resolved, the 2nd public hearing of the genocide is stalled.

For more information about the INACIF report, read the response from survivors after the report was issued.

Ongoing accompaniment and international observation is being requested by both the survivor organization and their legal teams for the re-trial. 

NISGUA, through the international coalition ACOGUATE, has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness' organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation since 2000. Follow NISGUA_Guate on Twitter for live updates.

Monday, July 13, 2015

In wake of Guatemala corruption scandals, Tahoe Resources’ Escobal license faces legal challenge

On July 12, 2015, the Guatemalan Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action (CALAS) filed criminal charges against former Minister of the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), Erick Archila, and former mines director at MEM, Fernando Castellanos. CALAS is accusing Archila and Castellanos of violating the Constitution and for breach of duty for having granted Tahoe Resources an exploitation license for the Escobal project without adequate consideration of more than 250 community complaints against the project. CALAS called on the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to fully investigate the Escobal licensing process, citing Archila's possible involvement in influence trafficking and illicit enrichment.

CALAS’s complaint reflects ongoing and widespread opposition to mining in Santa Rosa and Jalapa, which the government and company alike have ignored. Beginning in December 2011, more than a year before MEM granted Tahoe Resources its license, residents from various communities in Santa Rosa and Jalapa began filing administrative complaints against the project, according to provisions within Guatemala's mining law. The complaints, over 250 in all, expressed opposition to the project based on anticipated environmental impacts, which would violate residents' rights to water and to live in a healthy environment. 

According to the mining law, MEM is required to hold a hearing with the affected individual and the mining company in order to resolve each complaint. However, on April 3, 2012, less than one hour before the press conference when the approval of Tahoe’s exploitation license was announced, all of the complaints were dismissed.[1] CALAS argues that the Escobal license was therefore granted illegally and in violation of constitutional rights.[2] In May 2013, they initiated legal proceedings to repeal MEM's decision.[3]

On July 23, 2013, the Civil and Mercantile Division of Guatemala's First Court of Appeals decided in favor of the communities, upholding the appeal and putting the legality of the Escobal exploitation license in question. Tahoe Resources' Guatemala subsidiary Minera San Rafael appealed the decision, sending the case to the Constitutional Court. A final decision is pending. 

The recent charges come in the wake of an ongoing political crisis in Guatemala sparked by joint CICIG and Public Prosecutor investigations that revealed rampant corruption in the social security and customs offices, as well as in the judicial system and Congress. So far, 42 people, including President Molina's former personal secretary, his general secretary and the head of the national bank, have been arrested. Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned on May 8 under suspicion of illegal enrichment and Congress is considering stripping Otto Perez Molina of his presidential immunity. Former MEM Minister Erick Archila resigned on May 15 and is facing allegations of corruption, money laundering and anomalies in the granting of numerous government contracts.

[1] Prensa Libre, “MEM inválida oposiciones en Santa Rosa” (5 April 2013), online:

[2] La Hora, “Tensión por proyecto minero en San Rafael Las Flores” (10 April 2013), online:

[3] El Periodico, “Despues de recibir ataques, CALAS anuncia acciones legales contra mina” (4 April 2013), online:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Survivors call into question INACIF report claiming Ríos Montt too sick to stand trial

On Tuesday, Guatemala's National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF) published a report stating that former general Efraín Ríos Montt is mentally unfit to stand trial. The report was requested by Judge Carol Patricia Flores, the same judge who attempted to annul the genocide trial proceedings on April 18, 2013

The former de facto president was convicted on May 10th, 2013 for genocide and crimes against humanity inflicted against the Maya Ixil population during Guatemala's internal armed conflict. The Constitutional Court annulled the conviction ten days later in a controversial ruling many have deemed illegal. The first retrial date set for January 5th, 2015, was suspended before it began when Ríos Montt's defense successful recused the lead judge Jeannette Valdés.

Now, the future of the new retrial date, set for July 23, has been thrust into question by the INACIF report. It is up to the High Risk Crimes Court "B" - the three-judge tribunal assigned to hear the case - whether or not to accept INACIF's report that claims Ríos Montt does not have the full use of his mental faculties, is not capable of understanding the charges against him, and is unfit to stand trial.

In a July 8 statement, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) call into question the validity of the report and point to violations of due process. Specifically, the organizations state that Judge Carol Patricia Flores' court does not have the judicial authority to request a report from INACIF regarding this case. 

Flores temporarily brought the genocide trial to a halt in 2013 after she ruled to annul all proceedings after November 23, 2011, including her own January 2012 decision to formally indict Ríos Montt on charges of genocide. The Constitutional Court later overturned Flores' decision, ruling that she did not have the authority to make a decision on a case that had moved on to another court.

The obstruction tactics Flores' employed in favor the defense raised some serious alarm bells for judicial impartiality back in 2013. Now, her name has surfaced as a person of interest in an investigation led by the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity (CIGIG) into corrupt judges. It was recommended that her judicial immunity be revoked so she could be investigated for illegal enrichment - essentially, taking bribes.

The AJR and CALDH also question the impartiality of the INACIF report, pointing to section 9.6 which states: "It is not necessary to carry out further evaluations, which would only cause a greater stress upon the life of the person being evaluated." 

Below is a section of the press release from the AJR and CALDH.

"The process is in the hands of the Sentencing Tribunal of High-Risk Crimes 'B' and that is the competent court to hear everything related to the case. It was this court that ruled to open the trial again on July 23, and as such, we believe the trial will continue. Once again, survivors will show that in Guatemala, there was genocide.

Both the witnesses and the victims of genocide are ready to participate in a new trial when the Guatemalan justice system shows itself capable of respecting judicial independence. The process needs to be carried out according to the law, without allowing the judicial bodies who carry out the process to succumb to the pressure of sectors interested in keeping the serious human rights violations of the past in impunity. 

There already exists a condemnatory sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity, which was never annulled. It continues to be valid. This sentence reflects the truth of the Ixil people and proof that in Guatemala, genocide - a crime that holds international transcendence and is an affront to the dignity of all of humanity - happened. The State has an obligation to carry out a trial. 

Once more,
#WeWillProveIt #YesThereWasGenocide
#‎VamosaDemostrarlo‬ ‪#‎SIHUBOGENOCIDIO‬
Guatemala July 8, 2015

NISGUA's 2015 summer of grassroots organizing kicks off in Los Angeles

Last month, Los Angeles communities kicked off our summer of grassroots organizing and celebration with the first “house party” of the season hosted by the inspiring collective and cultural space, Eastside Cáfe in El Sereno. Local organizers came together with LA cultural performers and families to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the community consultation movement in Guatemala to defend land and life against resource extraction. Together with music, dance, poetry and ritual, we celebrated the ancestral decision-making practices that have been honored and held at the center of the movements for self-determination across Guatemala.

Lead organizer, Natasha Kerr, expressed her involvement with June’s event: 

“Volunteering with NISGUA allows me to reconnect with my Guatemalan roots. I feel energized to build community and defend our Mother Earth along with our brothers and sisters in Guatemala. I feel part of a movement that transcends borders and is creating a new path for future generations.”

Women from Grupo Folklorico Mi Bella Guatemala perform a
ceremonial dance at the event in Los Angeles.
Photo credit: Claudia Hernandez

Between performances, NISGUA was honored to teleconference with community leader and former political prisoner, Rubén Herrera, who helped to organize the community consultation in Barillas, Huehuetenango. Rubén Herrera spoke about the current situation of criminalization and detention of leaders in the region and called for international solidarity with their struggle. The LA community responded with messages of encouragement to the eight political prisoners from Huehuetenango who have been unjustly imprisoned because of their leadership in defending their land, culture, and communities. 

One supporter writes, “We are at an event in Los Angeles, California, educating our North American community about your struggle and commitment. Together, we call for your freedom and for justice in Guatemala.” 

Special thanks to Grupo Folklorico Mi Bella Guatemala, Trés Generaciones, Fidél Sanchez, and Jóvenes en Resistencia for your beautiful contributions to the event. For some photos please visit our FB album here.

Just two days after the kick-off to our summer of house parties, one of our participants on the 2015 Rivers For Life delegation also held an intimate gathering of family and friends for a report back just outside of LA. Accompanied by beautiful photos and an engaging conversation on how the history of imperialism and U.S. policy continues to shape the current realities for Guatemala, the event answered calls by our partners at ACODET that delegates return to their homes and communities to share their experiences visiting and learning with the communities in resistance to the Xalalá Dam.

The next community event is planned for tomorrow, Friday July 11, 4:30pm-7:30pm, at Sun Rise Restaurant in San Francisco, CA. Please see the event page on FB for more details or email We are still hoping more U.S. cities will participate in this season of grassroots community building. For support in planning your event, please email megan[AT], and we will provide you with all the tools you may need for a successful and meaningful house party this summer!