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  • Hope Amid Disappointment After Postponement of Ríos Montt Trial

    June 13, 2013

    by Kara Andrade

    Magdalena Pacheco lives in Chajul in the remote Ixil region of Guatemala. She is expecting a child and was recently hopeful about the direction of justice in Guatemala after former dictator Efraín Rios Montt’s genocide sentence. But her optimism has shifted after the guilty verdict was overturned.  

    “I am very bothered by this, it is very sad,” Pacheco, 30, says. “If we can’t make justice happen with one person, what can we expect?”

    In May, a Guatemalan court sentenced the 86-year-old retired general to 80 years in prison for the deaths of 1,771 Ixil Indigenous people between March 1982 and August 1983— part of a counter-insurgency campaign directed at guerrillas in the region. Last week, Rios Montt’s re-trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity was postponed until April 2014.

    Magdalena’s family was displaced to the mountains during the war, when she was seven years old. Her mother has physical scars and is disabled after being brutally raped by the army; her father was taken away and tortured in a military post, and her 17-day-old brother was burned alive when the soldiers set fire to their house.

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  • Protecting the Rights of Guatemalan Women

    October 13, 2011

    by Kara Andrade

    Dozens of artists, students, and creative types recently poured into the gray, windowless concrete building that houses Guatemala City’s Attorney General’s Office. Once inside, the scarf-wearing, tennis-shoe clad newcomers crowded the two small elevators where attorneys in suits hopped in and out of each floor, curiously touching shoulders with the visitors. On the fourth floor the doors opened onto an empty space where four rows of plastic chairs surrounded a stage with two overturned desks. The rows were soon filled by attorneys, many of them women, holding case files and pens in their hands while the visitors scampered over—many never having set foot in the building.

    All were there to watch "The justice that dwells within me"—a play directed by Argentine Marco Canale and coordinated by the Spanish Cooperation in Guatemala, the Cultural Center of Spain in Guatemala and the Coordinator of the Modernization of the Justice.

    Tags: Guatemala, Womens rights

  • The Rule of Law in Guatemala

    May 16, 2011

    by Kara Andrade

    Guatemala has its own magical realism when it comes to law and justice. In the past two months the fight against impunity in the Guatemalan courts took three notable hits. This put into question the rule of law in a country a Prensa Libre editorial recently called:  “the paradise of impunity and the hell of law enforcement, subject to unforeseen and inexplicable changes.”

    On May 11, Alejandro Giammattei, accused of executing five convicts when security forces stormed El Pavón prison outside Guatemala City in 2006, was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. This was the first major case launched in August 2010 by the UN-appointed agency International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Giammattei was accused by CICIG, led at the time by its then newly appointed head Francisco Dall'Anese Ruiz, of forming part of a criminal organization based in the interior ministry and the civil police. This unit was called on as being responsible for the executions of people detained in prisons. Alleged crimes included murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, extortion, and the theft of drugs. 

    Two days before Giammattei’s acquittal, the Eleventh Court of Criminal Sentencing in Guatemala acquitted former President Alfonso Portillo Cabrera of embezzlement. Portillo was accused of diverting Q120 million ($16.1 million) from the Ministry of Defense. Manuel Maza Castellanos and Eduardo Arevalo Lacs, former ministers of finance and defense, were also acquitted in a case that involved money laundering through accounts in Guatemala as well as U.S. and European banks.

    The acquittal came because two of the three members of the Guatemalan court felt that the Attorney General and CICIG had no hard evidence to prove the charges and questioned the quality of the witnesses.  Upon hearing the sentence, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz warned she would promptly be submitting an appeal with the belief that there was sufficient testimonial evidence to issue a guilty verdict. The attorney general said she would use all state resources to challenge the ruling.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo, Sandra Torres de Colom

  • A Guatemalan Town’s Recovery from Tropical Storm Agatha

    June 24, 2010

    by Kara Andrade

    While the rest of the world stared down the bottomless hole in Guatemala City's Zone 2, the small town of San Antonio Palopó around Guatemala's Lake Atitlan, was digging its way out of the aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha using sticks, brooms, shovels, and their bare hands.

    The mostly indigenous town of 14,000 suffered the destruction of 43 houses, 19 deaths, 2 still missing, 4 hospitalized, and more than 500 people evacuated to six shelters around the town's municipal building. Like many small rural towns in Guatemala, San Antonio's water system was destroyed during the storm so potable water was scarce and in this case came from run-off or contaminated water.

    Here, women and children crowded around to scoop up the muddy water into their large ceramic jars three times bigger than their heads. After the women filled their jars they climbed, sometimes barefoot, over recently fallen rocks and large pieces of corrugated tin and broken wood that stuck out like over-sized muddied splinters. The community's only means of entering or leaving their town continues to be by small boats because the four bridges remained collapsed. This also meant being cut off from supplies, food, water, and machinery to help dig people out of the rubble.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Lake Atitlan, Tropical Storm Agatha

  • Androids Land in Guatemala

    May 18, 2010

    by Kara Andrade

    Earlier this month three Android phones—LG's GW620, Samsung's i5700 Galaxy Spica and Motorola's Milestone Smartphone Android 2.0—were introduced by the rapidly growing Tigo telephone company in Guatemala. Android, an open operating system that allows access to Google's features such as email, text messages, calendar, maps and its browser, allows devices to be built faster and at a lower cost. It also increases the technology’s accessibility.

    The fact that Android is free and open source and now available in places like Guatemala is important because many people in developing countries use mobile as their primary or only source for Web access. According to the World Bank, more than two-thirds of the world's population lives within range of a wireless network. Half the global population has access to the Internet through a mobile device. This represents about 2.5 billion mobile users worldwide, which means many more people have access to a cell phone than to a personal computer.

    In Guatemala, long after the asphalt and pavement ends, cell phone networks extend deep into the mountains, and coverage is almost universally accessible. Much to the surprise of its Central American neighbors, Guatemala's telecom sector is in the top four in Latin America, according to Mario Marroquín Rivera, a consultant for Fundación2020. The cell phone infrastructure (99 percent saturation) is extremely well developed in contrast to Internet access where only 7.7 percent of people have high-speed access.

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    Tags: Guatemala, Telecommunications

  • Guatemala City Signals a New Sense of Justice

    March 17, 2010

    by Kara Andrade

    When I left Guatemala in 1982 at the age of five, I joined the immigration tide of thousands of people fleeing Guatemala’s civil war, poverty, gangs, and corruption to cross the Mexican desert and enter the United States. For many of my generation, Guatemala was as far as we could imagine from a law-abiding society where justice prevails.

    But things are changing. This year has already opened up new chapter in Guatemala's history. Look at what’s happened in just a few short months:

    - An ex-president went to jail to face money laundering charges.
    - The murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg—the prominent attorney who appeared on YouTube in May 2009 accusing President Colom of killing him—is resolved by a UN entity with 300 investigators who use cellphone calls and private security camera footage to determine that Rosenberg plotted his own murder.

    - The director of Guatemala’s national police force, Baltzar Gomez, is arrested on March 10 on charges of colluding with drug traffickers.

      And now, Guatemala has begun to both, figuratively and literally, dig deep in the dirt of its past and enter a period of transitional justice. For decades, Guatemalans have been digging up bodies buried in mass graves located in the mountains—where government troops and death squads massacred indigenous Mayan villagers to eliminate guerrilla opposition—but exhumations are now underway in Guatemala City's Verbena Cemetery. In the capital, thousands of students, church leaders, union members, and everyday citizens were abducted and never heard from again—and to this day Guatemala has made no official mention of those crimes or punished those responsible.

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      Tags: Verbena Cemetery, Guatemala civil war, Efraín Ríos Montt

    • New Guatemalan Law Would Spur Local Community Radio Development

      February 11, 2010

      by Kara Andrade

      On a smoggy Thursday afternoon in late January, Mark Camp, director for U.S.-based Cultural Survival Project, drives a big red truck with Massachusetts plates through Guatemala City traffic toward Congress. Camp—who looks more like an insurance salesman with a ponytail of gray hair, suit and polka dot red tie—has organized volunteers from community radio stations to flood the legislature’s halls on this big day for Guatemala’s community radio movement. Some have traveled almost two days by bus to make it in time. 

      “This is a historic occasion—years of trying and frustration have never brought us this far before,” said Camp nervously waiting outside the steps of Congress. “We think we have a real opportunity this year to get a law passed that will recognize the right of communities to have their own radio station.”

      For the first time in 12 years of attempts to pass a law to legalize and to grant frequencies to community radio stations, the National Movement of Radio Stations—represented by these cell phone-wielding radio volunteers ready to broadcast live in a Mayan language—have scored a win. The bill, called “The Law of the Community Radio Number 4087,” has received support from the President of Congress’ Pueblas Indigenas Committee and is now being sent back to the General Assembly. If passed, the bill would guarantee the use of at least one FM frequency for community radio in each of Guatemala’s 333 municipalities. Multiple towns could use the same frequency because of their limited broadcast range and one-third of all FM frequencies would be added to a new reserve as they become available.

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      Tags: Guatemala, Community radio

    • Pollution Threatens Guatemala's Lake Atitlán

      December 17, 2009

      by Kara Andrade

      In a pretend conversation written in Una Hoja de Papel, a child asks his grandfather what Guatemala's Lake Atitlán—Central America’s deepest lake—was once like. "It was very beautiful, crystal clear waters, you could see through the waters to the pebbles on the shore," the grandfather recalls. "It was once nominated as one of the seven wonders of the natural world. The couples chose this destination to spend their honeymoon. Undoubtedly, an enigmatic place of quiet waters and unparalleled splendor." "But, what happened?" the grandson asked. "Simple, we stood idly with our arms crossed," the grandfather said.

      Today Lake Atitlan—located within an hour’s drive of Antigua—is drowning in a film of green scum. NASA pictures taken just a few weeks show the lake as massive swirls of blue-green algae or cyanobacteria that, besides looking ugly and foreboding, literally make the lake stink. A result of long-term, excessive pollution.

      The situation has gained attention from international media and local publications like Prensa Libre and The Revue. The lake even earned the unfortunate distinction the “Threatened Lake of the Year 2009” by the Global Nature Fund. But is it human pollution or an environmental imbalance that has caused the lake to enter a coma and possibly an impending death?

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      Tags: Guatemala, Lago Atitlan, pollution

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