Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2005 - Guatemala

Assassinations and assassination attempts

Assassination attempt and threats against Mr. Leonel García Acuña176

On 7 January 2005, Mr. Leonel García Acuña, secretary general of the Workers' Union of San Miguel Pochuta Municipality (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Municipalidad de San Miguel Pochuta), Chimaltenango province, was attacked by four armed unknown men who fired at him while he was on his way to a farm in the area. The four men followed him for several minutes, threatening him with death. Mr. García Acuña was able to run to the village of San Miguel Pochuta, where several people prevented his attackers from pursuing him.

Mr. Garcia Acuña has been receiving threats since his union was formed in December 2004. Along with the other co-founders of the union, he was fired from his job by the mayor of San Miguel Pochuta, Mr. Domingo Gonzáles Noj, who stated at a meeting on 3 January 2005 that they had become his "worst enemies" since their organisation was formed. Mr. García Acuña and his colleagues lodged a complaint against the mayor with the General Labour Inspectorate and Mr. Acuña filed a complaint with the Chimaltenango Court.

By the end of 2005, no decision has been made public in the framework of those two complaints.

Assassination of Mr. Juan López Velásquez177

On 14 March 2005, Mr. Juan López Velásquez, a member of the Farmers' Unity Committee (Comité de Unidad Campesina), was killed when a peaceful demonstration against the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Central America and the Caribbean (CAFTA) was brutally dispersed by the National Civil Police (Policia Nacional Civil – PNC). During that demonstration, PNC used teargas and water cannons to disperse the protesters; it also issued arrest warrants against union activists involved in this event.

Assassination of Mr. Álvaro Juárez and death threats against APDP president178

On 8 July 2005, Mr. Álvaro Juárez, head and co-founder of the Association of the Displaced of Péten (Asociación de Población Desarraigada del Péten – APDP) and president of the Development Committee of the Vista Hermosa colony in San Benito, was murdered in his home by unknown people. By the end of 2005, the family, too scared, had not lodged any complaint, due to the climate of insecurity in the region.

A few days before the murder, Mr. Juárez had reported that an attempt had been made on his life, but the authorities had not reacted.

On 14 July 2005, Mr. Francisco Javier Mateo, APDP president, received death threats by telephone, in connection with his stance against the ratification of CAFTA.

Assassination of Mr. Harold Rafael Pérez Gallardo179

On 2 September 2005, Mr. Harold Rafael Pérez Gallardo, a lawyer working in the legal office of the NGO Casa Alianza Guatemala, was shot dead by an unknown man in Guatemala City.

Mr. Pérez Gallardo was handling cases brought before the courts by Casa Alianza Guatemala, particularly those involving illegal adoptions, trafficking of children, murders of street children and other children's rights violations.

By the end of 2005, no investigation into these events had been launched.

Death threats and acts of harassment

Death threats and harassment against defenders of the cause of indigenous people in Sololá province180

On 5 January 2005, Mrs. Dominga Vásquez, the indigenous mayor of Sololá and an activist against mining operations in the region, received an anonymous call threatening her because of her denunciations of abuses.

On 11 January 2005, the national police and the army forces repressed a peaceful demonstration conducted by farmers opposed to the transfer of a turbine to be used for mining activities at San Miguel Ixtahuacán, San Marcos region. Operating permits for the turbine had been given without the consent of the affected communities. Mr. Raúl Castro Bocel, a Kaqchikel Maya farmer, was killed and nearly twenty people were injured, including several police officers.

In addition, an arrest warrant was issued against Mrs. Vásquez and other community leaders, accused of having "incited the crowd" during the demonstration. In a note, the Criminal Investigation Department (Servicio de Investigación Criminológica – SIC) requested that these persons be charged with "threats", "coercion", "sedition", "terrorism", "militancy", and "violation of the Constitution". The Minister, Mr. Carlos Vielmann, also made a public statement regarding a presumed responsibility of the mayor of Sololá.

By the end of 2005, Mrs. Vásquez continued to be the victim of acts of harassment, and the governor of Sololá insulted her on several occasions.

Furthermore, on 25 March 2005, in the El Tablón community, Sololá province, Mr. Carlos Humberto Guarquez, a member of the Maya Foundation (Fundación Maya – FUNDAMAYA), an organisation promoting indigenous peoples' rights, found one of the Foundation's vehicles, which he regularly used, on fire. There were also five notes with death threats against him, Mrs. Dominga Vásquez and her husband Mr. Alfonso Guarquez, a journalist. Mr. Carlos Humberto Guarquez is involved in organising a campaign to alert public opinion about the environmental risks caused by mining, particularly for indigenous communities living near the mines.

In 2005, Mr. Guarquez received threats against his family on several occasions. One of his friends, Mr. Catarino Bocel, a member of the Association for Integral Community Environmental Development (Asociación de Desarrollo Integral Comunitario de Saneamiento Ambiental), of which Mr. Guarquez is a member, was also threatened by telephone.

Threats against GAM members181

In early 2005, Mr. Santiago Tul Caal, a member of the Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo – GAM), was subjected to acts of intimidation.

Furthermore, on 3 February 2005, Mrs. Sara Poroj, manager of the GAM programme of exhumation of secret mass graves, was threatened by an armed man who went through all her documents while she was in her hotel room at Playa Grande. The man then left without taking anything. More armed men were reportedly posted in the area around the hotel.

Mrs. Sara Poroj was at Playa Grande with other GAM members to obtain authorisation to exhume bodies from a secret mass grave located in a military zone.

On 4 February 2005, Mrs. Sara Poroj and Mr. Sergio Rivera, another GAM member, were followed by a vehicle while they were inspecting a mass grave site on the old military base in Playa Grande. The vehicle followed them to their hotel, which was also being watched by armed men.

On 5 February 2005, while returning to Guatemala City, Mrs. Sara Poroj and Mr. Sergio Rivera were once again followed for three hours by the same vehicle.

By the end of 2005, Mrs. Sara Poroj had not received any further threats, but she continued to benefit from precautionary measures of protection.

Death threats against Monsignor Alvaro Ramazzini182

At the end of January 2005, Monsignor Alvaro Ramazzini, bishop of San Marcos diocese, was reportedly the target of an assassination plan, in particular because of his support for the peasants in the region. Indeed, a man allegedly offered a former member of the intelligence services $50,000 to assassinate him, saying that he knew his schedule.

Mgr. Ramazzini and his diocese's opposition to mining development, particularly in San Marcos, his involvement in various land-related conflicts and his legal support for disadvantaged farmers and landless labourers might be the reason of such a plan.

By the end of 2005, Mgr. Ramazzini had not received any further threats, but continued to benefit from precautionary measures of protection.

Acts of harassment against CALDH members183

Since January 2005, acts of harassment against the Legal Action Centre for Human Rights (Centro de Acción Legal para los Derechos Humanos – CALDH) have increased.

On 11 January 2005, the Centre's offices received a false bomb threat.

On 23 February 2005, CALDH director, assistant director and legal advisor were victims of acts of intimidation near the organisation's offices. On 27 February 2005, the legal director received death threats by telephone.

In early March 2005, CALDH spokesperson was followed, as were two members of the CALDH Programme for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 16 March 2005.

On 17 June 2005, a man brandished a machete on the doorstep of the house of Mr. José Quino, a CALDH member, terrorising his wife and children. The next day, while Mr. Quino was at the Human Rights Observatory offices (a regional office of CALDH), his car was vandalised.

On 18 June 2005, Mr. Gustavo Adolfo Muñoz was publicly attacked while travelling by bus. Three strangers surrounded him, sitting very close to him, threatened him with a gun and questioned him about his activities. Although the bus was full at the time, he was the only one threatened.

On 21 June 2005, Mr. Luis Fernando Barrera was threatened at gunpoint and his car, which belongs to CALDH, was stolen. His attackers did not take any of his personal belongings. It was the fourth car belonging to the organisation to be stolen in this way.

In June 2005, the private telephone line the parents of another CALDH member, Mr. Abner Paredes, was cut for over a week. The telecommunications company Telgua stated that "a special intervention" had been set up and that it could not provide any further information.

By the end of 2005, the threats and acts of harassment against CALDH and its members continued.

Death threats against Mr. José Ernesto Menchú Tojib184

On 19 June 2005, four armed men burst into the shop of Mr. José Ernesto Menchú Tojib, a member of the Northern Quiché Regional Movement for Victims of Armed Confrontation (Movimiento Regional del Norte del Quiché de Víctimas del Enfrentamiento Armado) and the Farmers' Unity Committee (Comité de Unidad Campesina – CUC). They asked his wife, Mrs. Juana Tiquiram Maldonado, and his 10-year-old daughter, Rosa Menchú, where he was. The men forced their way into the house and stole 500,000 quetzals (approximately 55 euros) and Mr. Menchú's mobile phone, saying that they would kill him as soon as they found him. Once the attackers had left, Mr. Menchú's wife sent him a message urging him to come back home. They then noticed that a member of the security team working for the Botrán family (which owns land and businesses in Guatemala) was watching Mr. Menchú's house.

Those events might be related to Mr. Menchú's participation in CUC activities opposing the Botrán family's attempts to force farmers to leave the San Sigüan plantation. In addition, Mr. Menchú supported and worked toward the creation of an assembly aimed at forming a regional alliance between CUC and several other organisations in the same situation. He also helped with the exhumation of graves in Quiché province in order to identify the victims of earlier armed conflicts in Guatemala.

After these events, Mr. Menchú and his family had to leave their home for several days before returning with an international escort. A complaint was filed with the Public Prosecutor, who ordered that Mr. Menchú's home be given police protection.

On 23 June 2005, unknown individuals once again followed Mr. Menchú when he was on his way home. The next day, his home was watched for several hours.

Since August 2005, Mr. Menchú has received protection and benefited from an escort of the Coordinating Committee on International Escort in Guatemala (Coordinación de Acompañamiento Internacional de Guatemala – ACOGUATE).

Threats against CEIBA and its director185

On 7 July 2005, a fax containing threats was sent to the headquarters of the Association for the Promotion and Development of the Community (Asociación para la Promoción y el Desarrollo de la Comunidad – CEIBA), in Chimaltenango, and addressed to Mr. Mario Antonio Godínez López, CEIBA director. The message warned the association not to organise meetings with more than twenty people and advised it to be "very careful what it planned to do for the communities and the region".

On 16 March 2005, the day after several demonstrations against the Free Trade Agreement (Tratado de Libre Comercio – TLC), during which one person died and others were wounded, armed men had asked CEIBA leaders in Huehuetenango where Mr. Antonio Godínez López, abroad at that time, worked.

By the end of 2005, the investigation into these threats was still pending.

Death threats against Mr. René Muñoz186

In July 2005, Mr. René Muñoz, a member of the rural development programme of the Coordinating Committee of NGOs and Cooperatives (Coordinación de ONGs y Cooperativas – CONGCOOP), which actively supports farmers' organisations in their fight for access to land and rural development, received several telephone death threats, both at his office and at home.

On 1 July 2005, a man identifying himself as a member of the Chamber of Agriculture called him, insulted him, and then added that "if this was a threat, [he would] already be dead". On 4 July 2005, his wife also received threatening calls at their home.

On 5 July 2005, CONGCOOP filed a complaint with the Human Rights Prosecutor's office, who passed it on to the Public Prosecutor's office, requesting additional protection, such as police checks around Mr. Muñoz's home and the CONGCOOP offices. On that same evening, Mr. Muñoz and his family found blank sheets of paper pushed under the door of their home.

On 6 July 2005, when they came back home, they found that the lock on the door had been forced and their key no longer worked.

On 11 July 2005, Mr. Muñoz's in-laws received a call from a man asking to speak to their daughter. When they refused, the person calling said, referring to Mr. Muñoz: "We want that son of a bitch to leave!"

By the end of 2005, the investigation was still pending. The Human Rights Prosecutor offered precautionary security measures, but Mr. Muñoz did not accept them.

Death threats against STCHN leaders187

On 25 July 2005, the leaders of the Union of Bank Workers at "National Mortgage Credit" (Sindicato de Trabajadores del Banco "Credito Hipotecario Nacional" – STCHN), affiliated with the Labour Union of Guatemalan Workers (Unión Sindical de Trabajadores de Guatemala – UNSITRAGUA), found a funeral wreath in their office, accompanied by two death threats.

Three days later, STCHN members went to the bank's personnel office to meet with a representative of the Ministry of Labour in order to denounce the reprisals against the union leaders. One of the bank directors, Mr. José Fidencio García Beltetón, appeared instead of the Ministry representative, and insulted and threatened them.

On 9 September 2005, Mr. Danilo Enrique Chea, a union member, received a threatening telephone call.

By the end of 2005, the investigation into these threats was still pending.

Attack against two OASIS members and assassination of one of them188

On 17 December 2005, Mr. Juan Pablo Méndez Cartagena, known as "Paulina", and Mr. Kevin Robles, known as "Sulma", members of the Integral Sexuality AIDS Support Organisation (Organización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA – OASIS), were in "Zone 1" in Guatemala City when four men on motorcycles, wearing police uniforms, told them to stop and then fired at them. Paulina received two bullets in the head and died instantly. Sulma was hit by three bullets and was taken to the hospital where her condition, very serious, stabilised. As a witness of the murder of Paulina, Sulma was fearing for her safety, but the authorities did not offered her any protection.

OASIS is an NGO working on the prevention of HIV/AIDS and providing support for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people (LGTB).

Break-ins at several NGOs offices

Break-in at H.I.J.O.S Guatemala offices and threats against its members189

On 9 January 2005, some unidentified persons broke into the offices of the organisation Sons and Daughters for Identity, Justice and Remembrance against Silence (Hijos e Hijas por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio – H.I.J.O.S Guatemala), in Guatemala City, just a few days after its inauguration. They methodically searched each office, then seized three computers, containing in particular information on enquiries conducted in 2004 concerning militarisation, institutional violence and the practice of torture. They also stole address books containing details of institutions and people working with the organisation at national and international levels, phone directories and personal diaries, as well as files containing information on judicial procedures and military programmes in Guatemala.

In addition, on 6 May 2005, Mr. Francisco Sánchez Méndez, a member of the organisation, was the victim of an abduction attempt. He also received threats on several occasions during the year.

On 12 May 2005, H.I.J.O.S offices were broken into and a computer containing information of vital importance to the organisation, together with a tape recorder and photos, were stolen.

On 13 May 2005, several members of the organisation were followed on their way to work. The next day, a car was parked opposite the home of one of the organisation's members, with the driver adopting a threatening attitude.

On 15 May 2005, three strangers once again harassed Mr. Francisco Sánchez.

On 16 May 2005, Mr. Filiberto Celada, another H.I.J.O.S member, was followed by a taxi when returning home. The same day, someone parked opposite the organisation's office and watched it for several hours.

From May 2005 onwards, due to the increased number of incidents involving harassment of the organisation and its members, protective measures, requested by IACHR regarding the organisation members and its collaborators in 2004, were reactivated. H.I.J.O.S and its members filed a complaint with the Prosecutor's office responsible for human rights but, at the end of 2005, no enquiry had been opened and the responsible for those burglaries and threats had still not been identified.

Break-in at CNOC offices190

On 8 May 2005, the offices of the National Coordination of Rural Organisations (Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas – CNOC), in Guatemala City, were broken into. Important documents, including rural development projects designed to help CNOC in its negotiations with the State and companies in Guatemala, disappeared. Computers containing data, activity reports and projects concerning food safety, reform of the Labour Code and alternative proposals on agriculture were also stolen.

This event occurred while the Guatemala Congress was debating the Law on land registry (Ley de Catastro), which was in the process of being arbitrarily modified by legislators, despite a consensus already reached by the organisations representing Guatemalan peasants and the Chamber of Agriculture.

By the end of 2005, the investigation started by the Prosecutor was still pending, and organisation members had been summoned to appear before the Court to check that they were not the perpetrators of the break-in.

Break-in at the Ixqik Women's Association offices191

In 2005, the Ixqik Women's Association (Asociación de Mujeres Ixqik), based in Santa Elena, was subjected to harassment and threats, in reprisal for its activities of defence and legal support to victims of gender violence before courts in the Peten region.

On 27 October 2005, the Ixqik Women's Association organised a demonstration in Santa Elena, in the Peten region, in support of proceedings initiated by the association for rape against a man called Walter Castellanos.

Following the demonstration, unknown men forced their way into the organisation's offices on 31 October, 7 and 10 November 2005, and went through all the documents there. They also stole a camera containing pictures of the demonstration and two tape recorders, along with personal data of association members. Despite the complaints lodged by the organisation, the police did not undertake any security measures.

In addition, during November 2005, several organisation members had to change their phone numbers following intimidation. In particular, Mrs. Juana Botzoc, project manager, was seriously intimidated and received death threats from several people against whom proceedings were instituted.

By the end of 2005, IACHR was considering the association's request for precautionary measures of protection.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

176. See Urgent Appeal GTM 001/0105/OBS 004.

177. See National Movement for Human Rights (NMDH), and ICFTU Press Release, 17 March 2005.

178. See Urgent Appeal GTM 011/0805/OBS 060.

179. See NMDH.

180. See Open Letter to the Guatemalan authorities, 3 February 2005 and Urgent Appeal GTM 004/0405/OBS 024.

181. See Urgent Appeal GTM 003/0205/OBS 011.

182. See Urgent Appeal GTM 002/0302/OBS 023.1.

183. See Urgent Appeal GTM 004/0804/OBS 064.2.

184. See Urgent Appeal GTM 007/0605/OBS 045.

185. See Urgent Appeal GTM 008/0705/OBS 052.

186. See Urgent Appeal GTM 009/0705/OBS 054.

187. See Urgent Appeal GTM 012/0805/OBS 062.

188. See IGLHRC, Summary of 2005 cases on Latin America and the Caribbean, January 2006.

189. See Urgent Appeal GTM 002/0105/OBS 005.

190. See Urgent Appeal GTM 005/0505/OBS 031.

191. See Urgent Appeal GTM 013/1105/OBS 117.


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