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Gay Guatemalan congressman ‘scared’ for his life

Aldo Dávila a vocal critic of country’s president, corruption

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Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila participates in a protest in Guatemala City in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

GUATEMALA CITY — A gay Guatemalan congressman who is a vocal critic of his country’s president and corruption says he is afraid for his life.

“I am scared of what may happen with so much persecution against me,” Aldo Dávila told the Los Angeles Blade on Sept. 10 during an interview at a Guatemala City hotel. “I am scared for my life, for my partner, for my family and for my team.”

Dávila — a member of the Winaq movement, a leftist party founded by Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner — in 2019 became the first openly gay man elected to Guatemala’s congress. Dávila, who also lives with HIV, had previously been the executive director of Asociación Gente Positiva, a Guatemala City-based HIV/AIDS service organization.

Three men on April 19 approached his vehicle while it was stopped at a traffic light near Guatemala’s National Library and tried to rob him.

One of Dávila’s bodyguards who was driving shot one of the men. The other two men fled the scene before passersby and police officers arrived.

Dávila was not injured, but he later said in a Facebook post that he is “thankful for life.” Dávila told the Blade that Guatemalan authorities have not thoroughly investigated the attack.

“I requested an armored car after the attack, but I have not received it yet,” said Dávila, who arrived at the hotel with two female police officers who sat in the lobby while he spoke with the Blade. “This has not been resolved, even though it was in April. It is very complicated.”

Dávila said Culture Minister Felipe Aguilar, Congress President Allan Rodríguez and other supporters of President Alejandro Giammattei have lodged nine formal complaints against him after he publicly criticized the government over a variety of issues that include its response to the pandemic.

“It has been a systematic attack against me,” said Dávila.

Dávila told the Blade that he and his partner installed cameras in their apartment after someone killed their dog. Dávila also said he continues to receive death threats online and at his home.

“We are going to kill you, we are going to shut you up,” said Dávila, referring to the type of threats he says he receives.

“They send me little messages, I am clearly making those who are corrupt very uncomfortable,” added Dávila.

Prominent transgender activist murdered in June

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in Guatemala.

Dávila told the Blade that 21 LGBTQ people have been reported killed in Guatemala so far in 2021, including one person who was stoned to death.

Andrea González, executive director of Organización Trans Reinas de la Noche, a trans advocacy group, was shot to death in Guatemala City on June 11, days after Vice President Kamala Harris visited the country. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power both condemned González’s murder, but Dávila told the Blade there has been “no investigation.”

“It’s one more case about which to forget, unfortunately,” said Dávila.

Dávila also noted he has met with officials who include representatives of the National Civil Police, the Public Ministry and the National Institute for Forensic Sciences “to ask what they are doing” to combat anti-LGBTQ violence in the country.

“This is serious,” he said.

Organización Trans Reinas de la Noche Executive Director Andrea González in D.C. when she participated in the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program. She was killed in Guatemala City on June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

‘People don’t migrate because they want to’

Menchú, Visibles Executive Director Daniel Villatoro and Ingrid Gamboa of the Association of Garifuna Women Living with HIV/AIDS are among the 18 members of Guatemalan civil society who participated in the roundtable with Harris while she was in the country. The U.S. vice president met with Giammattei before the event.

Harris has previously acknowledged that violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is among the “root causes” of migration from Guatemala and other Central American countries. Harris and other Biden administration officials have also told migrants not to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“People migrate because states don’t have the capacity to respond to the most basic needs,” said Dávila. “People don’t migrate because they want to. People don’t migrate because (they say) today I am going to go to the United States because I have nothing to do. They don’t go on vacation. They go in search of health, work, security and economic resources to be able to sustain themselves.”

“Guatemala has not had the capacity to retain Guatemalans because it doesn’t offer them the minimum to be able to live,” he added.

Dávila described Harris’ visit to Guatemala as “important.”

He said Guatemalans are “eternally grateful for the” COVID-19 vaccines the U.S. has donated to the country. Dávila added he would like Washington to “take a look at the human rights violations that are happening in” the country and further sanction those who are responsible for them.

Giammattei earlier this year named his chief of staff to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.

The U.S. has granted asylum to former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, who the Constitutional Court refused to allow to run for president in 2019 after prosecutors alleged she embezzled money from a building purchase. The Biden administration in July stopped working with current Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ office after it fired Juan Francisco Sandoval, a leading anti-corruption prosecutor who subsequently fled the country.

The U.S. has imposed travel bans on a number of Guatemalan officials, but Dávila said these sanctions are not effective.

“We want clearer, more drastic sanctions,” he said. “The U.S. has been a historical ally for Guatemala, not just since yesterday, not from five years ago … it has been economically and financially supporting this country for a long time. The United States can impose more drastic sanctions against the government so the government stops being corrupt, so the government does not fight against migration.”

A monument to migrants in Salcajá, Guatemala, on March 9, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Dávila told the Blade he has not decided whether he will run for a second term in 2023.

Dávila said he has had “some problems” with the Winaq movement over funding for hospitals during the pandemic, but he remains a member. Dávila told the Blade he has received invitations to join other political parties.

“I am thinking about it and evaluating all the scenarios,” he said.

Dávila added he remains “very proud to be part of the opposition in the history of this country.”

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Central America

Honduras government admits responsibility for Trans woman’s murder

Vicky Hernández killed in San Pedro Sula shortly after 2009 coup

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Vicky Hernández (Photo courtesy of Cattrachas)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — The government of Honduras on Monday publicly acknowledged it is responsible for the 2009 murder of a Transgender activist.

Vicky Hernández was a Trans activist and sex worker with HIV who worked with Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, an advocacy group that is based in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city.

Hernández’s body was found in a San Pedro Sula street on June 29, 2009, hours after the coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. Hernández and two other Trans women the night before ran away from police officers who tried to arrest them because they were violating a curfew.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last June issued a landmark ruling that found Honduras responsible for Hernández’s murder. The admission was part of the settlement.

Solicitor General Manuel Antonio Díaz Galeas and Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina García were among those who attended Monday’s ceremony that took place in front of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa’s offices. President Xiomara Castro, who took office in January, participated virtually.

Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which represented Hernández’s family alongside Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group that is based in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, also attended alongside Hernández’s mother, Rosa Hernández.

“We should love our children for who they are because they come from the womb,” said Rosa Hernández. “No one has a right to take a life.”

Kennedy noted the Honduran government “has taken the first steps by publicly acknowledging and taking responsibility and apologizing for murdering Vicky.”

Violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains pervasive in Honduras.

Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent Trans activist, was killed outside her Tegucigalpa home on Jan. 11. Cattrachas notes she and Hernández are two of the more than 400 LGBTQ+ people who have been killed in the Central American country since 2009.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Honduras to pay reparations to Hernández’s family and enact laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from violence and discrimination. Kennedy in her statement noted Castro has pledged “to making these necessary reforms.”

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Central America

LGBTQ+ activist in El Salvador receives death threats

Erick Iván Ortiz lost Legislative Assembly race in 2021

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Erick Iván Ortiz (Photo courtesy of Erick Iván Ortiz)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — An LGBTQ+ rights activist in El Salvador who once ran for a seat in the country’s Legislative Assembly has received death threats.

Erick Iván Ortiz — a member of the Nuestro Partido party who is the director of communications for the Salvadoran Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons — spoke about the threats during an April 20 press conference.

Ortiz said he received two phone calls on April 13.

The person who Ortiz said threatened him asked in the second phone call where “should we leave the body” and whether “we should bury it or dump it in the river.” The Salvadoran Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons and the Nuestro Partido’s leadership have both condemned the threats.

Ortiz would have been the first openly gay person elected to the Legislative Assembly if he had won his race last year. Ortiz in January joined the Global Equality Caucus, a network of elected officials around the world who fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

Editor’s note: The Los Angeles Blade on Monday published a Spanish version of this article.

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Central America

Guatemala lawmakers scrap same-sex marriage ban bill

Country’s president said measure violated international treaties

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Plaza de la Constitución in Guatemala City. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

GUATEMALA CITY — Lawmakers in Guatemala on Tuesday tabled a bill that would have formally banned marriage for same-sex couples and defined a family as a man and a woman who are raising children together.

Agencia Presentes, a website that covers LGBTQ+-specific news throughout Latin America, noted members of the Guatemalan Congress voted 119-19 to table the “Law for the Protection of Life and the Family” bill. Agencia Presentes, which also reported 26 lawmakers abstained from the vote, posted a video that shows LGBTQ+ activists celebrating outside the Guatemalan Congress.

Lawmakers in the Central American country on March 8 approved the bill under which a woman who has an abortion would have faced up to 10 years in prison.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2018 issued a landmark ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage and transgender rights in the Western Hemisphere. Guatemala is among the countries in which the decision is legally binding.

President Alejandro Giammattei sent the bill back to Congress for further review because he said it would have violated international treaties.

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