A contingent of hundreds of National Civil Police (PNC) officers forcibly evicted 96 Maya Q’eqchi families on November 16. Carrying out an eviction order against the community, the PNC used heavy machinery to destroy their homes and burned their homes, belongings, and crops. Police also arrested Yolanda Choc Maquin for trying to defend her home and placed her five-year-old daughter in police custody. According to Citizens United Against Corruption (UCLC), “What the PNC in Guatemala is doing is a crime, even if they call it an eviction.” The eviction was carried out under the state of siege, which has been in effect since October 25. (Read more about the state of siege here)
Located in southern El Estor, the community has been living on a parcel of land allegedly owned by Juan Maegli, who rents the land to the Naturaceites company for planting and processing African palm. Company employees have accused the community of “usurping the land” but community members deny the accusation, claiming, “As indigenous people, we have the right to access the land as the Constitution says.” For years, the community has experienced threats and attempted evictions, often resulting in violence. On October 31, 2020, 300 PNC officers carried out an eviction of the community, firing tear gas and using weapons against families. Amidst the repression, Jose Choc Chaman was killed; his murder remains unpunished.
PNC Repress Protesters in Plurinational Strike
Thousands of protesters blocked roads across 12 departments Monday and Tuesday as part of a plurinational strike. The strike—organized by the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA)–denounced “extreme economic crisis, corrupt political officials, and the repression of the system headed by Giammattei and his members of Congress” and once again called for the President’s resignation. Mounted in solidarity with Maya Q’eqchi defenders in resistance to a mine in El Estor, protesters called for authorities to overturn the state of siege imposed on the community and respect the constitutional court ruling that upholds their right to consultation. (You can read more about the case on our blog.)
The National Civil Police (PNC)–some clad in full riot gear–were dispatched to the protests across the nation and were reported in some areas to be using excessive force. For example, in El Trebon police reportedly attacked women and children with their clubs and one officer was seen carrying an unauthorized knife. Guatemalan Congresswoman Vicenta Jeronimo denounced the repression saying, “A government that sends police into the streets to repress protesters in one that is violating our rights.”
Department of Homeland Security to Likely Reinstate Remain in Mexico Program
Following a court ruling, the Department of Homeland Security announced it will likely reinstate the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP). More commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico Program,” MPP is a Trump-era policy that forces asylum seekers that arrive at the southern border to wait out the decision on their cases in Mexico. Biden began rolling back MPP upon taking office in January, but in August a federal judge mandated reinstatement of the program after ruling on a lawsuit filed by the states of Texas and Missouri.
On October 29, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas released a 40-page memo justifying the reasons for cancelling MPP, explaining that MPP imposed “substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.” He concluded that “there are inherent problems with the program that no amount of resources can sufficiently fix.” In spite of this memo, DHS is being forced to comply with the federal ruling and announced that it will likely reinstate the program “in the coming weeks.”
Judge Sends Ex-PAC Accused of Rape of Achi Women to Trial
Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ruled that Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado must stand trial for the rape of two Achi women–sisters Margarita and Inocenta Alvarado Enríquez–that occurred in Baja Verapaz during the internal armed conflict. Alvarado faces charges for crimes against humanity, rape, and suppression and alteration of identity. The former member of the Civil Defense Patrol (exPAC) is one of five ex-PAC facing charges for their involvement in the Achi Women case; on March 25 Galvez ordered Damian Cuxum Alvarado and brothers Donaldo and Benvenuto Ruis Aquino to stand trial.
Journalist Anastasia Mejia Wins Committee to Protect Journalists’ Annual Award
The Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Maya K’iche journalist Anastasia Mejia a prestigious Freedom of the Press Awards. As a journalist in Joyabaj, Mejia has faced threats and criminalization from Mayor Florencio Carrascoza–named on the Engel List for corruption–for her work exposing criminal networks in the municipality. In September 2020, she was arrested on trumped-up charges and spent five weeks in prison before being sent to house arrest. On September 3, with no evidence to link her to the supposed crimes, all charges were dropped against her and the case against her was dismissed. GHRC accompanied Mejia throughout this legal process and continues to support her vital work. We give our sincerest congratulations to our partner for her well-deserved recognition.
Supreme Court Removes Immunity of Congressman Aldo Davila
On November 17, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled to remove the immunity of Congressman Aldo Davila to allow the Public Ministry to open a case against him regarding an altercation from 2020 where he allegedly assaulted a police officer during a demonstration. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office,“The behavior of the denounced official could be framed as a crime of abuse of authority, because using his position as a congressman and abusing his position, he carried out arbitrary acts against a public employee…by pushing and uttering words of discrimination against an agent of the National Civil Police.”
Davila condemned the decision as “political, spurious, and illegitimate” and called out the Public Ministry for its selective prosecution against opposition leaders, human rights defenders and journalists while protecting political allies. Independent judges Erika Aifan and Pablo Xitumul have faced similar attacks against them as processes to remove their judicial immunities are underway. Meanwhile human rights defenders and journalists–without any sort of legal immunity–are left even more vulnerable to criminalization for their work denouncing corruption and human rights abuses and defending their right to life and territory.