Seven were killed and some 40 wounded on Oct. 4 when security forces attacked a protest road blockade by Maya indigenous campesinos in Guatemala’s highland department of Totonicapán.
Protesters were blocking Cuatro Caminos intersection, a meeting point for roads linking the towns of Totonicapán, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and the capital, Guatemala City. President Otto Pérez Molina initially denied that soldiers on the scene were armed, saying the violence began when a private security guard on a cargo truck fired his gun in an attempt to clear the crowd. After Guatemalan newspapers ran photos from the scene clearly showing soldiers armed with rifles, Pérez changed his story, admitting the troops were armed but saying they only fired in the air after the protesters “tried to lynch” them. A private security guard and the seven soldiers who fired their weapons are under investigation by civil authorities, but Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto said the troops will remain in the army pending completion of the probe. Eight soldiers supposedly injured in the confrontation were presented to reporters at Anzueto’s press conference in the capital.
Human Rights Prosecutor Jorge de León confirmed that shells from the ammunition used by the standard army issue Israeli Galil assault rifles were found on the scene, as well as shells from another type of ammunition, presumably that fired by the security guard. The demonstration was organized by the Committee of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán, to oppose rising electricity rates and constitutional and educational reforms proposed by Pérez. The Committee said that when the attack occurred, some of its leaders were in Guatemala City waiting to meet with Pérez.
Another local popular organization called the Consejo Político Oxlajuj Baktún—the Thirteenth Baktun Political Council, a reference to the Maya calendric cycle that comes to an end this year—issued a statement after the massacre calling on the international community to establish a permanent commission in Guatemala to document “the repression, militarization and persecution of indigenous and community leaders.” The statement accused the government of violating the 1996 accords that ended Guatemala’s long civil war, and guaranteed the right to free political opposition.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has dispatched a delegation to Guatemala to investigate the facts of the massacre. Pillay visited Totonicapán during her mission to Guatemala in March, noting that although indigenous peoples constitute the majority in the country, they continue to be subject to exclusion and denial of their human rights. Guatemala was one of the first signatories of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which underscores that indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights.
At the funerals of the fallen in the central plaza of Totonicapán town on Oct. 5, thousands of local residents gathered to demand justice in the case.
Watch the video testimony of the Totonicapán’s 48 cantones’ President
* * *
The organizations listed below denounce the following:
1. On the afternoon of Thursday, October 4, the Committee of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapan, a traditional structure considered the legitimate representative of the people, suffered a violent attack by Guatemalan army forces at kilometer 170 of the Inter-American Highway. The army was responding to a demonstration the people were carrying out to show their rejection of constitutional reform, the reform of teachers’ educational career trajectory, and the high cost of electricity. As a result of the attack, seven people have died, at least eighteen have been reported wounded, and a number of others are suffering the effects of teargas.
2. When the attack occurred, the leaders of the 48 Cantons were in Guatemala City, waiting for President Otto Perez Molina to attend a meeting they were having with government representative Miguel Angel Balcarcel.
3. The use of combined forces (police and army) with firearms at a citizens’ demonstration in which they were exercising universally recognized and nationally guaranteed rights is a show of violence by the state, which is showing itself incapable of acting in a way that corresponds to a democratic culture, within the framework of a lawful state.
4. The use of soldiers and the use of firearms in evictions or to intervene in demonstrations or public meetings, according to resolutions of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, constitutes torture-a fact for which the State of Guatemala has been repeatedly criticized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
5. The authoritarian act and the refusal to sustain an effective dialogue to find real solutions to the population’s problems, the historical abandonment, and the demagogical discourse violates fundamental rights related to the dignity of peoples and persons.
In response to this situation, we demand:
1. That the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office investigate the incident thoroughly and issue an immediate resolution that permits the identification of those members of the security forces responsible for human rights violations.
2. That the Public Ministry initiate immediate criminal proceedings against those responsible for these bloody acts, as well as the arbitrary and violent actions of members of the civilian and military security forces.
3. That the government of Guatemala provide the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the Public Ministry with the names of the officials in charge of the forces involved; their operational plan; and details of instructions transmitted from Guatemala City to those commanders, from the Ministry of the Interior as well as the Ministry of Defense. Also, we demand that the government temporarily suspend the officials who by action or omission are implicated in the events.
4. That President Otto Perez Molina immediately demilitarize the security forces and withdraw military forces from public security functions.
5. That Guatemalan Congress repeal decree 40-2000, which allows joint patrols and that Congress adhere to the legal character of the Peace Accords, in particular the Accord on the Strengthening of Civil Power and the Function of the Army in a Democratic Society.
6. We call on the political, legislative, and private sector authorities to cease these authoritarian practices and to assume the norms of true democratic rather than demological society.
7. To the communities and leaders of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán, to the families of the dead, the wounded, and those others affected by these events, we pronounce our profound solidarity and our commitment to accompany you in the search for justice for these painful events.
Guatemala, 4 de octubre de 2012
Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos
Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos -CALDH-
Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos -CIIDH-
Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala -ICCPG-
Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala -ODHAG-
Seguridad en Democracia -SEDEM-
Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos-Guatemala -UDEFEGUA-
Asociación Familiares de Desaparecidos de Guatemala -FAMDEGUA-
Centro de Estudios de Guatemala -CEG-
Equipo Comunitario de Apoyo Psicosocial -ECAP-
Sector Mujeres de Sociedad Civil
Unión Nacional de Mujeres de Guatemala -UNAMG-