Indigenous issues: Former president of Guatemala will face trial for genocide

Indigenous Maya-Ixil attended the audience. Credit: Maya-Ixil attended the audience. Credit:

Former president of Guatemala to face trial; The People’s Summit and CELAC-EU summit take place in Chile; Costa Rica gives green light to Monsanto’s GM corn

Former president of Guatemala to face trial for genocide of indigenous culture

Following a court decision on 28 January ex-General Efraín Ríos Montt will face trial in Guatemala, with charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during his time as dictator from 1982 to 1983.

During a hearing on January 22, a representative of the Public Ministry of Guatemala stated that Ríos Montt and José Rodriguez, head of military intelligence at the time, planned the extermination of the Maya-Ixil culture located in the region of Quiché. The attorney affirmed that 33 per cent of the total 5,270 Maya-Ixil that died during the armed conflict (1960-1996) were killed by military forces between March 1982 and August 1983.

The hearing had been postponed from last year following appeals from Ríos Montt and Rodriguez’s lawyers in an attempt to block the process.

At the hearing on 28 January, judge Miguel Angel Gálvez ruled that the evidence against the two ex-military generals was sufficient to warrant prosecution. The case is due to start on 30 January at 9am in a historic trial for Guatemala and for all indigenous peoples.

Cristina Chiquin, a feminist activist from Guatemala, has spoken up about the issue: ‘this trial is a step forward towards justice, it symbolises the resistance and the struggle of male and female victims of genocide. Women who suffered sexual violence and that today are living testimony of what happened not so long ago – they are the ones fighting this battle.’

A report created by the Guatemalan Truth and Clarification Commission investigating human rights abuses by both sides during the three-decade-long civil war, explains that Ríos Montt’s military regime perceived the relationship of indigenous people with the FAR (guerrillas) to be dangerous. Even though the military regime recognised this as a direct consequence of legal institutions abandoning indigenous communities, those communities were nevertheless attacked as insurgents.

Another ex-military, Héctor Mario López Fuentes, also due to face trial, was able to postpone his case, alleging poor health.

The People’s Summit and the CELAC-EU summit take place in Chile

The CELAC-EU Business Summit in Chile during 25 and 26 January has received broad coverage in the news this week. It has frequently been pointed out how little the summit achieved, and Hugo Chávez, although absent, along with Raul Castro managed to steal the show.  Less has been said about The People’s Summit, which took place almost simultaneously.

The People’s Summit was created by social and political movements including Chile’s students, indigenous peoples, farmers, ecologists and human rights activists from Latin America and the Caribbean more broadly.

According to the Transnational Institute, a global union of activist academics, ‘The People’s Summit focussed on the themes of Social Justice, International Solidarity and the Defense of the Commons.’ In contrast, the CELAC official summit concentrated on bi-regional investment.

The final declaration of the People’s Summit affirms that ‘relations between the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean prioritise the privileges of investors over the rights of the people. This model is strengthened through trade agreements and bilateral investment, harming people not only in Latin America and the Caribbean but in the EU as well.’

Costa Rica gives green light to Monsanto’s GM corn

From July 2013 onwards Monsanto will plant genetically modified corn on 15 hectares in Costa Rica following the approval of the National Biosafety Technical Commission (CTNBio).

Indigenous people, farmers and ecologists strongly opposed the decision arguing that it is important to protect natural seeds.

They also worry for the health of people living around the area after a study conducted by French scientists concluded that rats fed with the transgenic corn or exposed to Monsanto’s top-selling weedkiller died prematurely or had a higher frequency of tumours. Nonetheless after the research findings were published other scientists criticised their research methods as poor.

Photo credit: Cristina Chiquin