Justice or repression in Guatemala?
Guatemala’s 2013 budget leaves little doubt regarding the trajectory of state policy regarding public security and defense. Analysis by Plaza Pública identifies the Defense and Interior Ministries, which oversee the military and police forces, as the biggest winners under the new budget, while the primary institutions of the justice system, the Public Ministry and Judiciary, will both undergo cuts. Public defenders and forensic specialists will also labor under insufficient budgets. As Plaza Pública comments:
“This is not a new story. Every year, depending more on political will than technical input, budgets assigned to institutions related to criminal investigation and justice are far behind the budgets of those charged with repression. Why? Because the government’s civil security focus has been and continues to be based on repression and the persecution of criminals.”
Security and human rights expert Iduvina Hernandez argues that government policy employs a military logic, inherited from Guatemala’s bloody armed conflict, that views criminals as “internal enemies” to be annihilated, rather than combating impunity and supporting the rights of citizens to due process.
This repressive focus underlies the expansion of police-military task forces under President Otto Pérez Molina, with the recent announcement of the establishment of the 250-person Kaminal Task Force based in Villa Nueva on the southern periphery of Guatemala City. Urban militarization has expanded during Pérez Molina’s first year in office, presented as a means of combating endemic violence and extortion attributed to gangs; the Maya Task Force has operated in the northern zones of Guatemala City since September.
Today’s news that inmates of Guatemala’s Fraijanes II prison are holding 8 guards and prison personnel hostage is a blunt reminder of the dehumanizing outcomes of current security policy. The prisoners have denounced mistreatment and torture, and are demanding improved food and increased visiting time with family-members, and reportedly threaten to kill the hostages if their demands are not met, while Interior Minister Lopez Bonilla has refused to negotiate until the hostages are secured. Past government responses to prison unrest have implicated security forces in the extrajudicial execution of prisoners, most infamously in the 2006 Pavón prison takeover, for which several high-level officials continue to face charges both in Guatemala and internationally.
The crisis at Fraijanes II comes during the same week that a massive prison-building contract is set to be awarded to the Inter-American Investment & Development Corporation, a U.S.-based company founded in 2010 in Nevada. The 543 million quetzales ($US 69 million) contract will in turn be pieced out to 10 private companies: four Guatemalan firms, three from Colombia, and one each based from Mexico, South Korea, and the U.S. The contracts range from the construction of new maximum and high-security prisons to high tech communications, surveillance, and biometric systems.
[Note: This post originally erroneously stated that the Inter-American Development Bank was involved in the prison-building contract. The post has been corrected, no known link exists with the IADB.]
Killing by SOA graduate cited in blockage of Honduras aid
More information has emerged regarding the withholding of millions of dollars of U.S. assistance to Honduras, with the AP highlighting the May 26 shooting of 15-year old Ebed Yanes by a U.S.-trained military unit as a factor in Senator Patrick Leahy’s move to block the aid, resulting in the cancellation of the Operation Anvil counter-narcotics program. The AP article is the first to quote figures for the amount of aid affected:
“…a State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter said the withholding may reach $50 million, including $8.3 million in counter-narcotics aid, and $38 million under the Central America Regional Security Initiative.
“That amounts to about half of all U.S. aid to Honduras for 2012, including humanitarian assistance.”
While the article notes that the death of Ebed Yanes, who was chased down and shot to death by soldiers manning a military checkpoint, is not the only killing that has raised concern, it does not cite more politically-sensitive incidents, such as the Ahuás massacre directly involving U.S. DEA agents or recent assassinations of a high-profile human rights lawyer and campesinos.
The AP article does, however, underscore the continued failure of human rights safeguards in U.S. security training and equipment transfers–the unit that killed Yanes had been approved for both by the U.S. State Department:
“The U.S. sent the leader of the squad, Josue Sierra, to cadet leader training last year at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas, a Defense Department institute at Fort Benning, Georgia. Sierra was allegedly the first to fire at Yanes, according to court reports, and was in charge of the truck.”
Last weekend marked the annual protest and vigil against SOA/WHINSEC in Fort Benning, organized by SOA Watch and partner organizations. This year Guatemalan mining resistance leader Yolanda Oquelí was among the Latin American delegates who addressed the protest.
Guatemala Indymedia Center updates
Via Facebook, Guatemala’s Indymedia collective has been providing up to the minute alerts regarding social movement struggles. Cascadia Solidaria has amplified these updates using Twitter. Last week brought reports of both tension and celebration:
- Resistance to mine company provocation | In San José del Golfo, near Guatemala City, community members have used peaceful blockades to halt gold mining by the Guatemalan company EXMINGUA, owned by the Canadian Radius Gold and U.S. Kappes Cassiday & Associates. On November 13 a group of mine supporters organized by EXMINGUA confronted the blockade, which mining resistance representatives denounced as an act of provocation. The incident was resolved peacefully and the mining supporters left, though reports of further provocation have continued. See Guatemala Indymedia’s communique (Spanish) and photos for more information.
Mining resistance leader Yolanda Oquelí: “These actions will not provoke us, they have made us stronger.”
- Political prisoners freed | Esteban Bernabé Gaspar and Pascual de Pascual Pedro, imprisoned during the State of Siege in Barillas, Huehuetenango in May, were released on November 14. The two men were detained and accused of a long list of crimes related to rioting which followed the May 1st assassination of a local leader of opposition to the Qanbalam hydroelectric dam project, owned by the Spanish company Hidralia-Ecoener (see Andrés Cabanas’ overview “Hidro Santa Cruz. De la A hasta la Z” for more information). Guatemalan social movement and human rights groups denounced their detention as illegal, and maintained that they were political prisoners criminalized for their opposition to the dam project. This week a Guatemalan judge found insufficient evidence for the charges against Estebán Bernabé and Pascual de Pascual; at least 9 other political prisoners remain in detention. See a communique via Barillas Resiste, as well as photos via Guate Indymedia.
Homecoming of political prisoners Estebán Bernabé and Pascual de Pascual