US vice president Joe Biden made a one-day visit to Guatemala on June 20 for a meeting with regional authorities on the recent increase in Central Americans, especially underage minors, apprehended while attempting to enter the US without authorization at the Mexican border. Calling the influx of children "an enormous danger for security" as well as a "humanitarian issue," Biden said the US planned to continue repatriating the young immigrants but would provide Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras with $9.6 million to reintegrate the deportees into society. The US is also offering financial aid that officials say will help stop the flow of immigrants: $40 million to Guatemala to launch a five-year program to reduce youth recruitment into gangs; $25 million for a five-year program to add 77 youth centers to the 30 now operating in El Salvador; $18.5 million through the six-year-old US-sponsored Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) to support Honduran institutions in the fight against crime; and $161.5 million for CARSI throughout the region.
On June 6 a criminal court in Geneva, Switzerland, sentenced Erwin Sperisen ("El Vikingo"), Guatemala's national police chief from 2004 to 2007, to life in prison for his participation in the extrajudicial execution of seven inmates in 2006 during a police operation at the Pavón prison near Guatemala City. Swiss authorities had detained Sperisen, who holds dual Guatemalan and Swiss citizenship, in August 2012 in response to arrest orders Guatemala issued in 2010 following an investigation by the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Under Swiss law citizens cannot be extradited, but they can be tried in Switzerland on foreign charges. The Geneva court acquitted Sperisen of three other charges due to lack of evidence; these concerned the killing of three escaped prisoners in October 2005. One of the former police chief's lawyers said the defense would appeal the convictions in the Pavón case.
The Congress of the Republic of Guatemala on May 13 approved a non-binding resolution denying any existence of genocide during the civil war lasting from 1960-1996. The resolution calls for national reconciliation and states: "It is legally impossible...that genocide could have occurred in our country's territory during the armed conflict." The Movement of Victims of Northern Quiche allege that more than 250,000 people were killed during the civil war, predominately Mayan indigenous people. Guatemala's Congress approved the measure with 87 of the 158 members voting in favor, after the secretary general Luis Fernando Pérez proposed the resolution. Pérez is a legislator for the party founded by ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who was convicted of genocide in May 2013.
Heavily armed men employed by the son of a local landowner shot five indigenous Q'eqchi' on April 7 in the community of Nueve de Febrero, Cobán municipality, in the northeastern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz, according to community residents. The wounded Q'eqchi' were taken by ambulance to the national hospital in Cobán; one died from his injuries on April 20. Residents say the attackers were under the command of Augusto Sandino Ponce, son of landowner David Leonel Ponce Ramírez. The Ponces are said to be linked to a project by Hidroeléctrica Santa Rita SA company to build a dam at Monte Olivo. The Nueve de Febrero community has been active in opposition to the dam for the past two years.
Central America's rainforests are being destroyed by drug traffickers who cut roads and airstirps on officially protected lands, according to a paper in the journal Science. The phenomenon, called "narco-deforestation," is occurring across large swaths of Guatemala and Honduras, and perhaps elsewhere. Erik Nielsen, an assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, said: "Not only are societies being ripped apart, but forests are being ripped apart." He added that cattle ranches are being established on cleared land as fronts to launder drug money.
Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo pleaded guilty before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York March 18 to taking $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan in exchange for continued diplomatic recognition of the nation. Portillo read a statement before the court admitting to taking the bribes as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. As part of the plea deal Portillo will face 46 to 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines with sentencing scheduled for June 23. Portillo was extradited to the US after the Guatemala Constitutional Court last May ruled in favor of his extradition. The $2.5 million Portillo received from Taiwan is only a small fraction of the tens of millions of dollars US prosecutors have alleged Portillo embezzled from the Guatemalan government and laundered through US banks.
In mid-January Canadian-US mining company Tahoe Resources Inc. announced that its El Escobal silver mine, located in San Rafael las Flores municipality in the southeastern Guatemalan department of Santa Rosa, is now in commercial production. "Our Guatemalan team has done a terrific job in delivering this world-scale silver mine within four years of the company's initial public offering," a Tahoe vice president, Ira Gostin, told Mining Weekly Online. Tahoe Resources is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Reno, Nevada; Goldcorp Inc., also based in Vancouver, owns 40% of the mine. Tahoe, whose stock has risen 12% in the past year, is considering several other exploration prospects in Guatemala and Latin America, according to Gostin. (Mining Weekly Online, Jan. 20)
Over the course of 12 years management at the Alianza Fashion apparel factory in the central Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango cheated employees out of some $6 million dollars in back wages and benefits, according to a report released Jan. 23 by Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR, formerly the National Labor Committee). The maquiladora—a tax-exempt assembly plant producing for export—stitched items like suits and jackets for at least 60 US retailers, including Macy's, JCPenney, Kohl's and Wal-Mart. The owner, South Korean national Boon Chong Park, shut the factory down in March 2013.