The environment of attacks against social and human rights movements deteriorates in Guatemala.

Fichero AudioThe environment of attacks against social and human rights movements deteriorates in Guatemala. (Radio Nizkor Audio File)

The security situation of human rights defenders and various civil society organizations deteriorates further in Guatemala.

The first type of actions consisted in illegal covert break-ins which looked like normal delinquency but which, due to the circumstances, the material stolen and the background of intimidation and prior threats, have the hallmark of the co-ordinated action of the military counter-intelligence services.

On the 19th September, 2004, in Guatemala City three organizations experienced break-ins with this modus operandi: "Casa del Migrante", "Paz y Tercer Mundo" and the "Proyecto Institucionalización del Mesodiálogo".

Paz y Tercer Mundo is an NGO of basque origin, whose headquarters were searched in a similar way to the Casa del Migrante. It is a non-governmental organization which specializes in development projects financed by funds primarily provided from the development aid budget of the state of Spain and the European Commission.

This non-governmental organization had already been the target of intimidation during the month of May when its office in Ixcán was attacked, hit by gunfire nine times. During the break-in various files, computers, passports and databases were all seized

The organization of "Casa del Migrante" has been working for more than 10 years to secure greater human rights guarantees for those migrants, both national and foreign, who go to countries in the North seeking better opportunities. It has links with Social Action (Pastoral Social) of the Church in Guatemala.

The "Casa del Migrante" has carried out investigations to identify those who may be responsible for trafficking in persons and as a result they have files and archives containing the names of those people. Among those files are the names of persons associated with powerful groups in the society. During the break-in at the Casa del Migrante the databases, both in hard-copy and digitalised form were stolen.

The Casa del Migrante experienced a second break-in on 27th September 2004.

Two other development and civil society organizations have also been broken into. One, the " Unión Progresista Amatitlaneca", is a savings and credit institution which, among other things, organizes loans for individual and collective agricultural projects. The other, the COOSADECO co-operative offers microcredits.

According to reports, in both cases, those responsible stole records and important documents and in the case of the "Unión Progresista Amatitlaneca", an amount of money equal to 60,000 quetzales was also seized.

The modus operandi in both these break-ins is the same: unknown persons entered the said properties at night time without using force after disconnecting the alarms. They proceeded to take documents containing important information. According to the complaints filed, in neither case did the security forces carry out any investigation and instead merely dismissed the complaints.

It is obvious to any specialized observer that the military intelligence services, by means of robbery or by duplication of the hard drives of the computers belonging to these organizations, are trying to obtain the information they need to organize their illegal counterintelligence plans of intimidation and criminalization which bring about the disappearance of such civil society organizations.

The Face of Terror

In 2004, the Coalition in favour of CICIACS ("the Commission to Investigate Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Apparatus in Guatemala") and the Unit of Human Rights Defenders of the National Movement for Human Rights (la Unidad de Defensores del Movimiento Nacional por los Derechos Humanos) published a report entitled "The Face of Terror, Analysis of Attacks against human rights defenders from 2000 to 2003" (El Rostro del Terror, Análisis de los ataques en contra de los defensores de derechos humanos del 2000 al 2003), the period of government by the Guatemalan Republican Front (the FRG) and its famous leader, General Ríos Montt.

This report contains a general description of the human rights situation and an explanation of the characteristics of the systematization of attacks against human rights defenders and their organizations. It also contains a data base which is used to support the analysis, an information analysis and an interpretation of the causes of these attacks taking into account the various patterns which have been identified.

Thus the report systematizes the various types of attacks against human rights defenders.

Under the category of violation of the right to life, it deals with murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, forced disappearance and torture.

In the category of violations of right to liberty and personal security it includes threats, whether made in writing, by telephone or in person, surveillance, persecution and intimidation.

The category of violations of the right to property include illegal searches and seizures, and damage to property; and, finally, violation of the right to freedom of expression covers, among other things, defamation of functionaries including the filing of legal complaints where they are designed to restrict such freedoms.

The report starts with the premise that the term "Human Rights Defenders" includes any person or organization which promotes or defends one or more human rights and therefore the analysis includes, among others, leaders and co-ordinators of social and peasant organizations, trade union organizations and those which defend gender differences and promote the right to health.

It also includes employees of governmental bodies connected to the defence of human rights, such as the Human Rights Ombudsman, leaders of indigenous organizations, Mayan priests, priests who work with peasant organizations and those defenders working in the area of the right to truth and justice (redress, exhumations and unresolved cases of human rights violations during the armed conflict).

In the period from 2000 until 15th September 2003, that is to say, primarily during the Government of the Guatemalan Republican Front, 387 attacks against human rights defenders were recorded. Of these, 13 occurred between 1997 and 1999 and are attacks which took place during the government of Álvaro Arzú. During the period of three years and eight months of the government of Alfonso Portillo covered in this study 374 attacks took place against human rights defenders.

There is a trend of increased attacks against defenders commencing in the last year of the Arzú government (1999) but which then increases dramatically at the commencement of the Portillo government (2000) and continues to grow throughout the entire period.

According to the study, the type of violation which has been on the increase in recent years are violations to liberty and security. Violations of the right to life have remained within a range of 13 to 23 attacks per annum in the last three years and 8 months. The year 2000 was the period of the most violations to the right to life. With respect to violations to the right to property (the majority being illegal breaking and entering) the numbers have also remained constant at a level of between 16 and 26 attacks per annum, the year 2002 being the period when most of these type of violations were recorded.

Without doubt, there is an increasing deterioration of the right to defend human rights in recent years and if the situation with respect to impunity remains unchanged this trend appears to be irreversible.

According to the report the groups which have suffered most attacks are the defenders who work in the area of truth and historical memory, the struggle for justice and the struggle for peasants' claims and journalists.

In the case of those who fight for peasants' claims it is worth comparing the type of defender with the type of crime committed: one in every two attacks against peasants constitutes murder.

The peasants and trade unionists are particularly vulnerable to kidnappings, attempted murder and murder, whereas defenders of the right to truth are more likely to be burgled, either in their offices or their homes.

Justice defenders are more likely to be subject to surveillance and intimidation. (The report explains that these probabilities have been compiled by reference to the most significant cases quantitatively without discounting the importance and vulnerability of other sectors).

Who benefits from impunity? The military and agents of the State involved in past violations of human rights and organized crime and the actual powers concealed behind this wall of impunity.

In many instances it is obvious that there are sufficient elements of a plan which could only have been carried out by a group organized to effect intelligence operations, that is to say, groups within the army or composed of members of the military which have been trained in intelligence. These groups are what have been described in the peace accords as Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Apparatus.

With respect to the identified patterns of attack, it is apparent that the most frequent type are of those where there is a strategy of breaking down/paralyzing the activities of human rights defenders' organizations, followed by attacks where the organization or defender is confronted by a local power or a specific "enemy".

Attacks have been designed to immobilise rather than to destroy. These three years have been plagued by attacks which generate fear and make the work of the institutions more difficult. The intermittent occurrence of murders and other attacks against life go to reinforce the fear felt by human rights defenders and reaffirm the principle of survival as a society and the philosophy of passivity which states that "if you don't get involved in anything, there is nothing to fear"

In other words, the specific effect of the attacks is to generate a dynamic of self-censorship and self-control over specific actions taken or participation in the promotion or defence of human rights. Since the end of last year there has been an effective pressure to destroy the fabric of solidarity within the organizations and to create an atmosphere of insecurity.

These actions turn into everyone's worst nightmare because they exacerbate the destructive consequence of the 'fear-passivity' effect and facilitate the violent actions that can be taken by local aggressors against any re-organization in support of the defence of human rights.

The attacks clearly reflect patterns of planned action. Even the fact that certain attacks come from the private sector and from certain local powers are consistent with a logic of generalized impunity. 64.8% of all cases are of defenders whose professional areas of responsibility concern Army, Entrepreneurs/Estate owners and violations of human rights.

Of every two attacks against defenders who work in the area of Army and Government issues (about 154), there is one attack against defenders who work in the area of executives/estate owners and it is against this latter category of defender where most of the death threats received materialise into actual killings.

What has happened in Guatemala during the period comprised in this report?

    a) The rate of violent deaths increased from 2,659 in every 100,000 persons in 1999 to 3,689 in every 100,000 in the year 2000 according to the statistics of the National Report for Human Development for the year 2003 compiled by the United Nations Development Programme. This constitutes a significant deterioration in civilian security.

    b) The Gini index, which measures income inequality, increased from the period between 2000 and 2002. Likewise, the Theil index, which measures inequality of income increased in the same period and exceeded the 1989 index.

    c) The level of extreme poverty increased from 15.7% in 2000 to 21.5% in 2002. Nevertheless, the Human Development Index increased between 2000 and 2002.

    d) From the perspective of the budget, the levels for the Ministry of National Defence have increased whilst the budget for Public Health and Housing have decreased.

    e) The fight against drug-trafficking has had so many setbacks that the United States Government has de-certified the state of Guatemala which in turn has had the effect of opening the door to group actions which dramatically increased the possibilities of illegal drug trafficking.

    f) On the issue of corruption, the media has released an endless stream of corruption accusations which have led to no investigations nor any determination of responsibilities and therefore impede any proper understanding as to the real dimension of the problem.

    g) A political polarization between the rich and the poor, between the opponents and the supporters of the government, has been created which in turn has destabilised the country and deepened its ungovernability to the point where multilateral and international bodies of all types -both public and non-governmental - have taken the view that Guatemala is an unstable country which is dangerous and unsuitable for tourism and investment.

    h) In general terms, the population lives in an environment where they feel that things have "gone back" to being bad. This return to the past, if not necessarily to the period of "great violence" (1980-1983), is still similar to the decade of the seventies for some and the end of the eighties for others.

Disorder and chaos are the best words to summarise what has gone on in the last few years. The democratic transition is officially curtailed. The agenda of the Peace Accords is forgotten. The Rule of Law has faded away.

The rule of law is barely appreciable in the social services which attempt to achieve collective well-being. Again, who benefits from all this? The forces whose wealth and power derive from the illegal activities which are going on in the country: drug-trafficking, smuggling, trafficking in persons, illegal adoptions, arms-trafficking etc.

In this framework, human rights defenders - from whatever sector - become the enemies of those forces. Their work, as the United Nations Secretary General said in 1998 "builds democracy and peace". These are objectives which undermine the ideal environment of such forces.

The pattern of attacks confirms our view that these hidden powers are acting using the methodology of military intelligence. Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Apparatus are the instruments used to implement the policy of terror which now affects us.

The dismantling of these groups and apparatus will be a long process but it is really the first necessary step in order to see and confront those powers which are destroying Guatemala.

Hidden Powers: Illegal Armed Groups in Post-Conflict Guatemala and the Forces Behind Them.

The names of retired Generals such as Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, Luis Francisco Ortega Menaldo, Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera, Luis Felipe Miranda Trejo, José Efraín Ríos Montt and Otto Pérez Molina, as well as Colonels Jacobo Esdras Salán Sánchez and Napoleón Rojas Méndez, stand out as examples of the "hidden powers of clandestine groups" in Guatemala, according to the study presented on Tuesday 21st September by the Washington Office on Latin-American Affairs (WOLA as it is known by its English acronym) .

The study, carried out by Susan C. Peacock and Adriana Beltrán, describes and identifies those it considers have organized and directed these types of clandestine groups involved in the political violence during the war and the reign of organized crime during the post-war period; the study includes persons such as the supposed leader of contraband operations, Alfredo Moreno and the banker Francisco Alvarado Macdonald.

The study, entitled "Hidden Powers: Illegal Armed Groups in Post-Conflict Guatemala and the Forces Behind Them", maintains that the parallel groups are an unresolved legacy of the internal armed conflict and that their links to organized crime, corruption and drug-trafficking have weakened the justice system and perpetuated the climate of impunity and violence. It adds that the clandestine groups, allied with structures such as organized crime, drug-trafficking and contraband, are increasingly infiltrated within the Guatemalan State.

This situation is consistent with the report of the mission by the Paris based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) which was carried out in September 2003 by Antonia Macias, lawyer and Vice-President of Equipo Nizkor and Reinaldo Villalba Vargas, lawyer and member of the José Alvear Restrepo Collective of Lawyers (CCAJAR). That mission produced a report entitled "Guatemala: Flagrant violation of the right to justice".

The report highlighted the fact that the State of Guatemala continues to breach its national and international obligations with respect to the struggle against impunity. The phenomenon of impunity still reigns in that country, in particular with reference to those responsible for human rights violations. The Guatemalan state has not taken the measures necessary to guarantee speedy and efficient access to justice, nor to assure judicial independence and impartiality.

It also states that it is of grave concern that there exist clandestine power structures and clear evidence of participation by military intelligence in these structures. This can be seen in the many complaints and even some judicial investigations which have shown the participation of the Presidential General Staff in serious violations of human rights and attacks against human rights defenders.

It demonstrates its concern about the inaction of the State in the dismantling of these clandestine organizations and the impunity which protects their actions.

The FIDH report similarly states that the situation in Guatemala "can be considered to be a continuation of the policies of "military transition to democracy", which have established a system of social and political control based on the massive use of intelligence and counter-intelligence; and notwithstanding that one of the legalized structures which carries out human rights violations, such as the Presidential General Staff, has been formally dismantled, the exercise of social and political control is maintained by means of the G-2 of the Guatemalan Army or clandestine groups and illegal security groups".

The consequence of this, as the report goes on to explain, is that there exists a society which is terrorised and subjected to a state where there is a permanent absence of law, equivalent to a covert state of exception. This, in turn - using supposedly democratic methods -facilitates the installation by the "secret government" of those leaders considered to be appropriate within the framework of social and political control which the military and their external advisors have established.

The objective of this system is not only the political and social control of the Guatemalan people - within what could be called a system of racial and social segregation of the indigenous population - but also to create a defensive wall against those legal attempts to bring to trial those responsible for the criminal organizations (in the sense used in the Statute of the Nuremberg Tribunal and its Judgements) and which impedes the commencement in any third countries of legal processes against those responsible for these crimes.

The construction of the Chixoy dam and the legitimate claims of the communities affected.

Claims by local communities affected by the construction of the Chixoy dam have been the subject of a defamation campaign, similar in type to the PR campaigns carried out by specialist firms, and set in motion contemporaneously with the events which have taken place in Guatemala City

This campaign, has been led by the newspaper "El Periódico", which Radio Nizkor considers to be a spokesman for the military intelligence services. It has published articles containing intimidation, threats and defamation against the human rights movement but especially against the human rights defenders in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, a population located 194 kilometers from Guatemala City where particularly terrible massacres took place against the indigenous civilian population.

The municipality of Rabinal is located in the centre of Guatemala, and is part of the department of Baja Verapaz, occupying an area of 504 square kilometers. It is bordered by the following municipalities: to the north with the municipality of Uspantán of the department of El Quiché, to the south with the municipalities of El Chol, Granados and Salamá, to the east with the municipality of San Miguel Chicaj and to the west with the municipality of Cubulco, all these belonging to the department of Baja Verapaz. Rabinal is made up of an urban centre, 27 villages and 50 hamlets.

Rabinal can be reached by two routes from Guatemala City. The first route is the most commercial and the most modern and is 194 km in length. The other route is much less commercial and was used during three centuries (16th, 17th and 18th) and is 114 km in length.

Some 500 Mayan peasants, many of them survivors of the massacres carried out by the Army when it built the Chixoy hydroelectric dam over 20 years ago, occupied the dam as part of their demand for compensation.

The demonstrators also oppose Government plans to build other hydroelectric projects in the country. "No more dams should be built until they compensate for the damages they have done to the people of Chixoy" Juan de Dios, the group's leader, told Reuters.

The demonstrators rejected stories that hundreds of armed men were supporting the protests and said that their actions were pacific.

Chixoy produces 275 megawatts of energy, representing 60% of the electricity of Guatemala.

The dam, constructed in the high Mayan areas, has been polemical since the first plans were drawn up in the middle of a bitter military repression during the civil war in Guatemala which lasted 36 years.

In 1980, the Army and the paramilitaries killed 300 people in the locality of Rio Negro, close to the dam, after they had refused an offer to be relocated. Children and women died in three massacres.

In 1982 the community endured two massacres, the first taking place in Xoco on 7th February with 74 victims and the second in Río Negro on 13th March with 177 victims.

One group of survivors took shelter in the community of Los Encuentros, where the Army killed 79 people and from where 15 women disappeared on 14th May 1982.

Other survivors of Rio Negro headed for the community of Agua Fría, in the municipality of Uspantán, Quiché, where, on 14th September 1982, patrolmen from Xococ and soldiers arrived. They executed 92 people, including women, old people and children after accusing them of providing food to guerrilla members.

The Rio Negro survivors also stated that they were seeking reparation from the World Bank which had assisted in financing the construction of the dam, together with the Inter-American Development Bank and which continued to provide financing notwithstanding the atrocities that had been committed.

Following an internal review, the World Bank concluded that the massacres had in fact taken place.

The indigenous Mayans, numbering about 1,000 or 1,500 according to sources, returned to their homes after a pacific occupation of the Chixoy dam on 7th September 2004 and the communities believe that they were successful in persuading Government officials to initiate a process of negotiations to provided reparations for the damages caused by the construction of the Chixoy dam.

Representatives of the Co-ordinator for the Communities Affected by the Chixoy Dam (18 communities) signed an agreement on 8th September with the National Electricity Company (INDE), the U.N. Verification Mission in Guatemala and the Human Rights Ombudsman.

According to the agreement, INDE undertook to review the documents concerning Chixoy in its possession and expedite consideration of the outstanding obligations as well as provide copies of the same to the communities. INDE will also verify the existence of the agreement for resettlement which was signed by INDE and the World Bank and will provide a copy to the communities, all within a period of eight days.

The Co-ordinator also obtained agreement to organize a committee towards the end of September which would comprise representatives of the affected communities, the Government administration, the Ministry of Mining and Energy, the Congressional Commission for Energy and Mining, the World Bank, the Inter-American Bank, INDE and the Spanish company Unión FENOSA (owners of the privatised Guatemalan energy distribution companies).

This committee, which would be mediated by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, would be responsible for commencing negotiations on reparations for those communities affected by Chixoy.

This agreement also establishes that the communities have not caused any damage to the installations at the dam, nor to any person; and that the signatories must follow the timetable agreed upon.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the newspaper "El Periódico" published an article which even a superficial contextual analysis would describe as a "military intelligence report". It merely demonstrates that the military counter-intelligence services continue to act on the borders of Guatemalan constitutional legality.

The nexus of the defamation campaign designed by specialist image consultants to disseminate a negative image is based on the following points:

    1) The demonstration was organized.

    2) 10 foreign activists took part.

    3) Digital cameras, digital videos and sound amplifiers were used.

    4) Juan de Dios García, a known human rights activist and Director of ADIVIMA, is described as a clandestine leader because he denies that he is head of the communities but he is recognized as such by the Mayan peasants.

    5) To evidence the criminal origin of the organization, given that the demonstration was pacific, Juan de Dios García has been criminalized and accused as follows (quoting the text): "García has three charges on his record, including one for possession of drugs for consumption and the other for breaking and entering". This information is completely false.

The obvious intention of this article is create the impression in government and diplomatic circles in Guatemala that they are dealing with acts organized using guerrilla-like methods and with similar intentions. To achieve these purported aims foreign advisers of unknown origin are being used with technical equipment such as photographic and digital video equipment which is, of course, beyond the means of the Mayan peasants.

To exacerbate the contents of the article, it is made clear that Juan de Dios García is persecuting the military and this is evidenced by the action brought against Colonel José Antonio Solares, one of those responsible for the massacres in 1982.

The newspaper report even cites the numberplates of the vehicles used to transport the Mayans as a clear means of identifying those who are collaborating by providing transport in order to enable the clandestine members of the intelligence community to continue the work of social control

On the subject of this situation, Radio Nizkor interviewed Juan de Dios García, human rights activist and ADIVIMA Director, Association for Integral Development of Victims of Violence in the Verapaces.

The interview is available in Spanish on the Radio Nizkor webpage on Human Rights in Guatemala, together with an interview dated 27th February 2004 concerning the massacre of 107 children and more than 70 women, Maya-Achì, in the village of Río Negro, Baja Verapaz, which was carried out on 13th March 1982 by members of the Civil Self-Defence Patrols under orders from the Guatemalan Army.

We believe that it is necessary to support human rights activists whose lives are endangered by the criminalization of their perfectly legal actions.

Source: Radio Nizkor collaborators in Guatemala; the Centro de Estudios de Guatemala; the U.N. Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA); the Centre for Indigenous Development, Costa Rica; the Washington Office on Latin America, U.S.; the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Switzerland, and Equipo Nizkor. 02oct04

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