Guatemala: maquila stole $6 million from workers

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.

Guatemala: indigenous ex-rebel leader killed

Guatemalan indigenous activist Juan de León Tuyuc Velásquez was murdered the night of Jan. 15-16 by unknown persons in Sololá, capital of the western department of Sololá. The body had gunshot wounds and signs of beating. Tuyuc worked on development projects in indigenous communities, and under the pseudonym "Peter" he commanded a front of the leftist Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war. His sister, Rosalina Tuyuc, heads the National Coordinating Committee of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA), which represents women widowed by the war. Indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchú, the winner of the 1992 Nobel peace prize, described Juan Tuyuc as "committed to democracy, justice" and "the firm and lasting building of peace." She called for the "prompt investigation, capture and application of the law to the material and intellectual authors of the crime." (Latin American Herald Tribune, Jan. 16, from EFE; TeleSUR, Jan. 16, from AFP)

Guatemala grapples with opium boom

Guatemala has emerged as a major opium producer in recent years, and now President Otto Pérez Molina—a conservative who is increasingly breaking with the US-led "drug war" consensus—is considering legalized and regulated cultivation of the poppy as an alternative to eradication. "We started exploring the capacity that we could have for controlled planting," said Pérez Molina. "What that means is that we would know exactly what extensions are being planted, what the production would be and that the sale would also be well controlled, especially for medicinal use." Interior minister Mauricio López added: "There are two paths; one is cultivated substitutes, and the other is the alternative which is controlled cultivation. This is what is already being done in other countries such as India and China, that is to say identifying hectares clearly, seeing how they are grown, carrying out the harvest, taking control of the commercialization and above all making sure this serves mainly the pharmaceutical industry."

Guatemala: court seeks amnesty for Ríos Montt

Guatemala's Constitutional Court (CC) voted 5-2 on Oct. 22 to issue a ruling that could lead to amnesty for former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83), who faces charges of genocide for the killings of 1,771 indigenous Ixil from March 1982 to August 1983 in a counterinsurgency campaign he headed. The CC ordered the trial judge, High Risk Cases Court judge Carol Patricia Flores Polanco, to rule on defense lawyers' motion for a dismissal of the charges based on Decree 8-86, a 1986 blanket amnesty for all crimes committed by the Guatemala military and leftist rebels during Guatemala's civil war, which started in 1960.

Gulf Cartel's Guatemalan jefe busted in Chiapas

Mexican federal police on Oct. 4 announced the apprehension of a fugitive Gulf Cartel operative, Eduardo Francisco Villatoro Cano AKA "Guayo"—wanted in Guatemala for a bloody attack on police earlier this year. Guayo was captured in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of southern Chiapas state, bordering Guatemala. Guatemalan authorities hold him responsible for a June armed attack on a National Civil Police post in Salcajá, Quetzaltenango, in which nine officers were killed.  He was arrested along with his cousin, Édgar Waldiny Herrera Villatoro AKA "El Gualas." Although both men are Guatemalan nationals, they were said to be serving as agents of Mexico's Gulf Cartel. They were turned over to authorities in Guatemala, where President Otto Perez Molina said the Gulf Cartel network in the country has now been dismantled.

Mexico busts more Sinaloa Cartel biggies —but still not El Chapo

Three men allegedly linked to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, accused of conspiring to distribute a thousand kilograms of cocaine in the US and Europe, face trial in a federal court in Concord, New Hampshire, after being extradited from Spain. According to network Univisión, the accused were apprehended in the Spanish port of Algeciras in August 2012. One defendant, Manuel Jesús Gutiérrez Guzmán, has been identified as a cousin of Joaquin Guzman AKA "El Chapo"—the Sinaloa Cartel's notorious fugitive kingpin. Another, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, was a candidate for public office in San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora, with Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). (Latino PostProcesoProceso, Sept. 4)

Guatemala: mineral interests behind massacre?

Kaqchikel indigenous authorities in the central Guatemalan pueblo of San José Nacahuil, just outside the capital, are protesting the government's response to a Sept. 8 massacre in which 11 residents were killed and 15 injured as gunmen shot up a cantina. Some of the bodies were found in the bathroom where patrons attempted to hide from the attack; others were chased out into the street and gunned down. Governance Minister Mauricio López told reporters the killings could be the work of youth gangs or maras linked to the drug trade. But traditional Kaqchikel leaders issued a statement reading: "We are strongly opposed to the statement of the Minister of the Governance that blamed gangs, which is completely false. It is premature to make statements without having initiated an investigation." (Global Voices, Sept. 10; AFP, Sept. 9; BBC News, AP, Sept. 8)

Guatemala: mining companies are dealt setbacks

A panel of Guatemala's Civilian and Mercantile Appeals Court issued a restraining order on July 24 that is likely to keep Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources Inc. from opening its El Escobal silver mine in August as scheduled. The court backed a complaint filed by Kelvin Jiménez, a member of the indigenous Xinka group, that the Energy and Mining Ministry failed to deal with 250 appeals against the operation when it granted a 25-year license for the mine on April 3. The court's decision gave the ministry three days to begin proceedings on the appeals. The Legal and Environmental Action Center (CALAS), a Guatemalan organization that assisted Jiménez in the legal action, said the July 24 decision would suspend operations at the mine; a spokesperson for Tahoe downplayed the ruling, saying the company's Guatemalan subsidiary, Minera San Rafael, would appeal, although the spokesperson admitted that the process might take several weeks.

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