Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The answer to "Who knows who started the fire..." at the Spanish Embassy

Three and a half decades had to go by in order to achieve justice for a horrendous moment in the history of the country. At the time, television cameras recorded the burning of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala and showed the agony the 37 people endured after being blocked from leaving. The official version offered by the State and other conservative actors was that a group of terrorists had committed suicide in an act of protest. [On January 19], a national court sentenced the police officer in charge of the operation; his goal was to guarantee that no one leave the diplomatic headquarters alive.

By Rodrigo Veliz Nómada
Translated by: NISGUA

Original article in Spanish can be found here.

[In 1980] a campesino organization, the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) and a group of students, the Robin García Student Front (FERG), took over the Spanish Embassy to call attention to the beginning of the massacres of entire communities in the highlands of Guatemala.

It was the time of military dictatorships, of guerrilla organizations, of mobilizations and massive marches, of political assassinations every day. These were the years of crisis, when groups - for good or bad - looked for change, while others sought to preserve the way things were through the use of terror. It was the last day of January 1980.

Neighbors and passerbys in zone 9 besieged the police and military, asking them why they were not lifting a finger to save the victims who were crying out. The faces of the police wearing civilian clothes and uniforms remained stone cold. The firefighters looked to break the blockade maintained by security forces. In the background, the cries came out of the top of the two-story building. Screams of agony. The occupants - campesinos, students, Spanish diplomats and other embassy staff - pleaded to be let out while they were being burned alive. For minutes, nobody was able to do anything. Some, out of a sense of helplessness. Others, because they were under direct orders not to do anything. The order was this: not even one person gets out alive.

For years, it was impossible to know who was responsible for the massacre. The intellectual authors backed the official truth provided by the dictatorship: the occupiers of the Spanish Embassy killed themselves in an act of protest. It had nothing to do with the State or its security forces, said the military. The most prestigious conservative historian, Jorge Luján Muñoz maintained for years that Gregorio Yujá Xona, the campesino who survived the burning, only to be killed one day later and left dead on the USAC campus, stated while in the hospital: "who knows who started the fire?" [Muñoz] expressed his position in books and during his testimony at the trial. With this, the truth about one of the biggest urban massacres in the history of Latin America was left in darkness.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Freedom of expression at serious risk in Guatemala

Today, alternative and grassroots media in Guatemala denounced attacks against Radio Snuq' Jolom Konob', a community radio station in the department of Huehuetenango that regularly transmits voices of the Q'anjob'al people living in and around the municipality of Santa Eulalia. 

The department of Huehuetenango, like many other areas in Guatemala, has been the site of increased social conflict due to the presence of transnational extractive companies. Community radio stations play an important role in promoting access to information and freedom of expression, which are two major constitutional rights that are often violated by the Guatemalan government and transnational companies who obtain exploration and extraction licenses without the free, prior and informed consent of impacted communities. 

Today, members of the Radio Snuq' Jolom Konob' denounced the forced shut down of the radio and other attacks as a violation of freedom of expression and the cultural rights of indigenous communities who depend on the station to transmit radio programming in Q'anjob'al. 

For the original press release in Spanish click here.

January 23, 2015

In Guatemala, physical assaults, false accusations and the prosecution of community journalists is increasing, and the lack of support from the mass media in denouncing these intimidations is creating precarious conditions for the exercise of freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the concentration of the mass media in the hands of a few and their monopolistic practices are putting a crack in democracy.

The realities being faced by community radio stations right now in Guatemala show that the State is not fulfilling its obligation to respect, protect and promote the right to freedom of expression.

Alternative, popular and grassroots media continue to be repressed and attacked. Today, there is the case of Radio Snuq' Jolom Konob', who is transmitting information via radio and the internet from Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango about the happenings that affect life in the Q'anjob'al municipality of Santa Eulalia.

On January 19, the radio denounced the persecution of community leaders and acts of aggression by the Mayor of Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, Diego Marcos Pedro. At dawn on January 20, a group of the Mayor's supporters shut down the radio, cutting off the electricity, and became violent with members of the radio team. All of this was done with the support of the Mayor. 

This hasn't been the first attack that Mr. Diego Marcos Pedro conducted against Radio Snuq' Jolom Konob'. In September, 2014, he shut down the building and suspended the electricity because the station was transmitting an event run by the community authorities in Santa Eulalia. Due to pressure from communities, he had to reinstate the electricity to the radio; there are already official complaints registered with the Public Prosecutor's Office under Crimes Against Journalists. In many cases, however, due to the criminalization of community journalists and the stigmatization against them, often these complaints are not followed through. 

It is both urgent and necessary to begin and expand a debate around exercising the rights to freedom of expression, as this right and privilege doesn't only extend to the mass media. 

In light of these threats and acts of aggression against our fellow journalists, reporters and member of the community press: 
  1. We demand: an end to the acts of aggression against community press, reporters and journalists. The act of filing criminal charges, the laws that criminalize the work of citizen journalists, the closing of radios and physical aggressions committed against journalists all constitute a policy of repression against freedom of expression.
  2. We ask: that Congress approves legislation that recognizes alternative and community media.
  3. We need: the Unit for Crimes Against Journalists to be strengthened in the Public Prosecutor's Office, as part of a general social need to strengthen the judicial system in the country.
  4. We demand: the Government of Guatemala provide clear reports on the advancements in the Program for the Protection of Journalists - an initiative offered by the Government since November 2013.
  5. We ask: the Human Right's Ombudsman to pay special attention to what is happening in the interior of the country, where community media are being intimidated by powerful local actors bent on ensuring they cannot fulfill their roles as information providers.
  6. We invite: fellow journalists to be responsible, committed and truthful in carrying out our work to provide the country with information, as democracy rests in our voices and our words.

Radio Comunitaria Snuq' Jolom Konob', Prensa Comunitaria, Red Tz'ikin, DEMOS, CEPPAS GT, AGHS, CERIGUA, Asociacion Sobrevivencia Cultura, Asociacion Mujb'ab'lyol, Asociacion de Radios Comunitarias Guatemala, Asociacion Luciernaga, Centro Civitas, Red Mesoamericana, OPAL Prensa, El Salmon, and Plaza Publica