Saturday, April 27, 2013

Attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and indigenous leaders

As several of us worried at the end of last year, Guatemala were beginning to see an uptick in violence after three years of decreasing murder rates. That still seems to be the case. The year started with increasing attacks against women, police officers, and bus drivers and more recent stories have focused on the increase in attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and indigenous leaders.

Patricia Davis, former director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, recently wrote The Echoes of Guatemala’s Nightmares Past where she links today's repression with that of the past. Everything that she writes is troubling.
In light of these events, it is becoming clear that a mini version of Guatemala’s war is being fought with little notice. It involves a struggle over land and rights, complete with death squad activity. Meanwhile, as in the past, impunity reigns. Those who testified against the country’s former dictator have been swept aside, along with their right to justice, and another mass grave has been dug by Guatemala’s powerful, this time for the truth.
Now I still think that there's less impunity than there was just a short time ago, but the attacks against campesinos and human rights defenders are growing more worrisome.

The Knight Center on Journalism in the Americas also writes about a Cyberattack on El Periódico in Guatemala is the most recent in a long history of aggressions.
On April 8, El Periódico, one of the principal independent newspapers in Guatemala, published an extensive and unflattering portrait of Vice President Roxana Baldetti.
Written by the newspaper's president, José Rubén Zamora, and the director of the MEPI Foundation, Ana Arana, the article "Un cuento de hadas sin final feliz," a fairytale without a happy ending, highlighted the corruption scandals that hound people close to the official and questioned Baldetti's luxurious lifestyle during the last decade, including trips around the world by her youngest son in private jets and properties in Guatemala valued at over $10 million.
Days after the publication of the report, El Periódico suffered its sixth cyberattack in as many months, temporarily knocking the newspaper offline. Zamora blames President Otto Pérez's administration for the attacks.
The attacks against El Periodico come one month after one of its reporters, Sofia Mechu, was personally threatened after writing about the President's connections to Captain Byron Lima Oliva. Lima is serving a prison sentence for his involvement in the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi.
Prensa Libre
Now Guatemala is a pretty good sized country with 15 or so million people so you don't want to jump to conclusions off a few bad news stories or even a few grisly murders. Ninety-six municipalities did not experience a single homicide over the last six months.

I made similar statements after the Peten massacre and the January murders of the four women. However, after what I saw as progress in 2011 and 2012, the last six months (from just before the Totonicapan massacre) have been a clear reversal. The president's support for vigilante justice earlier this year, the emerging threats surrounding the trial, and the increasing dysfunction of congress, the executive branch and most government agencies don't provide much optimist that things are going to turn around quickly.

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