Guatemala

Guatemala: protesters set fire to Congress building

Thousands protested in Guatemala's capital Nov. 21 against a newly approved 2021 national budget that imposes deep cuts in funding for health care, education and programs to combat malnutrition—at a time when the country is hit hard by natural disasters and COVID-19. One breakaway group of protesters hurled improvised incendiary devices at the Congress building, setting it on fire. Police used batons and tear-gas to push protesters back, attacking not only the some 1,000 in front of Congress but also a much larger demonstration in front of the National Palace. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned what it called an "excessive use of force" by the National Civil Police, while the government of President Alejandro Giammattei accused the protesters of "terrorist acts" that will be "punished with the full force of the law." (NYT, Al Jazeera, Prensa Libre, Prensa Libre)

Villagers abandoned in Eta's deadly aftermath

Some 150 are dead, with remote indigenous and campesino communities left stricken and without aid, a week after Hurricane Eta tore through Central America. Eta made landfall south of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, as a Category 4 storm on Nov. 3. Two güiriseros, or artisanal gold-miners, were among the first killed, as a landslide inundated the mining camp of Tigre Norte in Bonanza municipality of Nicargua's North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Far worse was to follow in Guatemala, where officials have called off the search for dozens believed to have been buried when a mountainside collapsed, engulfing the hamlet of Queja. Ovidio Choc, mayor of San Cristobal Verapaz municipality, said the site of Queja will probably be declared a cemetery. Elsewhere in Guatemala's Maya Highlands, villagers have had to mobilize their own rescue and recovery efforts, effectively abandoned by the government.

Maya villagers attacked by gunmen in Guatemala

Q'eqchi Maya campesinos in Guatemala's central Alta Verapaz department were attacked by a group of unknown gunmen who violently evicted them from their homes before setting them to the torch on Aug. 16. At least 40 families lost their homes in the attack at the hamlet of Balbatzul, in Cobán municipality. President Alejandro Giammattei said National Civil Police troops have taken control of the hamlet, and the Fiscalía has opened an investigation. Some of the targetted homes were on occupied lands of a large farm, Finca Cubilguitz, which appears to have been at issue in the conflict. Local campesinos moved onto the lands last year, but leadership of the occupation has been contested between followers of the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) and ex-guerilla commander César Montes.

SCOTUS lets stand 'Remain in Mexico' policy

Some 60,000 asylum-seekers sent back by the United States to Mexico until their claims can be heard in US courts face a longer wait in Mexican limbo after the US Supreme Court issued an order on March 11 that allowed a controversial anti-immigration policy to stand. An appeals court in San Francisco had ruled that the policy—officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols, but known as "Remain in Mexico"—was unlawful in the two border states under its jurisdiction: Arizona and California. The new order means asylum-seekers must now pin their hopes on the outcome of an expected formal appeal by President Donald Trump's administration—but that might not play out through the courts until early 2021.

Mexico: crisis, militarization on both borders

There were scenes of chaos in Mexico's northern border towns Feb. 29 in response to rulings in rapid succession by a US federal appeals court on the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy. First, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled against the administration's policy, (euphemistically dubbed the Migrant Protection Protocols) that forces migrants and refugees seeking asylum to wait in Mexico while their claims are reviewed, and severely limits the number of migrants eligible for asylum. Thousands of asylum-seekers who had been camped out for weeks in Matamoros, Ciudad Juárez, Nogales and Tijuana immediately amassed at the border crossings, hoping to gain entry to the US. But the crossings were closed, and hours later, the Ninth Circuit granted an emergency stay on the injunction, as requested by the administration, effectively reinstating the MPP while further arguments are heard. The gathered migrants were dispersed by Mexican security forces.

Mexico: 60,000 'disappeared' in drug war

Mexican authorities announced Jan. 6 that an estimated 61,637 people have disappeared amid the country's drug war. A previous analysis in April 2018 put the figure at just 40,000. The new figure was calculated based on analysis of data from state prosecutors. While the cases analyzed date back as early as the 1960s, more than 97% of the cases have occurred since 2006, when then-president Felipe Calderón began a military crackdown on drug traffickers. More than 5,000 people disappeared last year, according to Karla Quintana, head of Mexico's National Search Commission (Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas).

Environmental defender slain in Guatemala

Environmental activist Diana Isabel Hernández was slain Sept. 14 in an attack by armed men on a religious procession in her community of Monte Gloria, Santo Domingo municipality, in the Guatemalan department of Suchitepéquez. Hernández was a leader of the Mujeres Madre Tierra Association, a group linked to the local Catholic church that worked to protect forests and promote organic agriculture. The Alianza por la Solidaridad human rights network denounced the slaying as a "cowardly murder that adds to the many cases of attacks on leaders who work for the common good." The network counts 16 social leaders assassinated in Guatemala last year—compared to three in 2017. 

NYC: outrage over automotive terror —at last

Hundreds of bicyclists staged a "die-in" in New York's Washington Square Park July 9, expressing outrage over the spate of killings of cyclists on the city's streets. Three deaths came in a one-week period, finally prompting demands for public action: Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger and track racer, was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan. Ernest Askew, 57, riding an e-bike in Brooklyn, was hit and killed by a teen driver. And Devra Freelander, 28, an artist, was killed by a cement truck driver, also in Brooklyn.  (Bicycling, July 10) Hundreds of people gathered at 6th Avenue and West 23rd Street after the slaying of Hightman there on June 24. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018. (Gothamist, June 25) 

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