Jody García - Nómada
In the three days of the state of siege in five municipalities in the north-east of Guatemala, actions have already been filed in the Constitutional Court. The intent of these actions is to stop the state of siege due to concerns about abuses against the resisting communities. Guatemalan Governance is signaling milestones in the fight against drug trafficking.
Sunday, July 19th, Government Decree 14-2020 was published, which establishes a state of siege in the municipalities of El Estor, Morales, and Livingston, in the department of Izabal; and Panzós and Santa Catarina la Tinta, in the department of Alta Verapaz.
The government's justification for decreeing the state of Siege is that the presence of organized crime groups carrying out illicit activities such as drug trafficking, illegal migration, contraband, among others, has been detected in the aforementioned municipalities.
As expressed in the press release from the government of Alejandro Giammattei, “the actions of these organized crime groups have caused the loss of jobs, the execution of multiple crimes against people and their property. Moreover, these actions intend to turn the region into an area controlled by criminals”.
With this measure in place, the residents of these municipalities have been experiencing a restriction in their rights to freedom of action and locomotion, the right to legal detention, assembly and demonstration, questioning detainees, and carrying and possessing weapons.
In two days, several actions were filed against the measure decreeing the state of Siege. The Association of University Students Oliverio Castañeda de León and the Social and Popular Assembly filed an unconstitutionality action and the International Commission of Jurists, the Peasant Committee of the Altiplano, and the deputy Aldo Dávila, presented an appeal.
In addition, more than 125 national and international organizations have published a statement rejecting the measures, warning that the state of Siege decree jeopardizes respect for the human rights of the communities, especially the indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi ’and Garifuna.
Without higher crime rates
Diálogos Guatemala, an organization that mainly carries out data analysis and investigations of homicidal violence, published a map with information from the National Civil Police. In the map, it can be observed that of the five municipalities with restricted rights, only in Morales and Izabal high rates of homicides, and crimes against private property are reported.
Guatemalan municipalities with higher murder rates (2019).
According to PNC figures on criminal acts in 2019, of the 5 municipalities intervened by the #StateOfSite, only the municipality of Morales, Izabal, appears as one of the most problematic in terms of homicides and crimes against property and freedom.
Source: Diálogos Guatemala
Ramón Cadena, president of the International Commission of Jurists, was one of the interponents of the appeal against the state of Siege. His argument is that President Giammattei is actually using the rights restrictions to limit the opposition.
"With the argument that there is a drug trafficking crisis, Giammattei is trying to limit the rights to control the political opposition of people who do not want the exploitation of nickel, in Izabal, and the Hydroelectric projects in Alta Verapaz. You cannot silence the opposition, ” Cadena expressed.
International law requires governments to justify with data why these measures are necessary. In Guatemala, Congress must approve the state of siege if there is evidence that it is deemed essential. However, as Cadena pointed out, there is no counterweight among the deputies to really verify the background of the state of Siege measure.
Companies versus resistance
The Chamber of Agriculture, the Palm Growers Guild, and the Chamber of Industry supported the state of siege that the president Giammattei decreed and also called for the execution of pending eviction orders.
Last year, when Jimmy Morales restricted rights in the North-East region of the country, some of the journalists of Nómada traveled to El Estor, Izabal, to verify on the ground that the main effect of the state of Siege was to neutralize the community organization that opposes megaprojects and large companies such as the Guatemalan Nickel Company, and the producer of African palm Naturaceites.
The communities in the southern area of El Estor are surrounded by 32 square kilometers of African palm plantations. Watered between the plantation there are 37 villages living in poverty and extreme poverty. The communities in the southern area of El Estor have been asking for dialogue tables for years to resolve the conflict over land ownership.
As palm plantations expand, villages are crowded and arrest warrants are issued against community leaders. In times of siege states, community leaders live in hiding for fear of being captured by the army who do not need a judge to issue an arrest warrant.
The Guatemalan Nickel Company also benefits from the Siege status especially since the company has faced protests by a group of dismissed people. This type of demonstrations, for example, will now be prohibited.
Blocks organized from said protests prevented the Guatemalan Nickel Company from entering coal and raw materials into the mine, which caused the company to suspend labor contracts. Those affected from the suspensions, blamed the Q’eqchi Ombudsman, an organization that has opposed mining.
"Here there is a pattern of repression against the local authorities," Cadena concluded.
CGN mine facilities in El Estor, Izabal.
The actions of the National Civil Police
The Public Ministry, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Civil Police have been carrying out dozens of daily raids in the municipalities where the restriction of rights was decreed. Among the findings, marijuana and poppy plantations are reported.
Jorge Santos, from the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), points out that during states of Siege they have detected an increase in the monitoring, surveillance, and arbitrary detention against activists.
With the health crisis caused by COVID-19, the violation of human rights increase. People who were captured in the state of Siege in Nahualá and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, Sololá, are still waiting to make their first statement, Santos said.
Government decree 13-2020 must be approved by Congress; however, the government has not forwarded it. In a summons with the National Unity of Hope, Oliverio García Rodas, Minister of the Interior, said he was not aware that the document has not physically reached Congress.
Oliverio Castañeda also said that the state of Siege aims to investigate illegal migration, where they have also identified human trafficking.
"Drug trafficking activities in that area are obvious and visible. That area is being used as a kind of pilot plan to see if the cocaine business can bear fruit in the Republic of Guatemala, "he said.
To date, the National Civil Police reports 12 detainees by order of capture or flagrant crime, 10 seized firearms, and 23,000 coca leaves destroyed.
Translation: Giada Ferrucci