Nine Guatemalan military personnel were arrested last Thursday, charged with extrajudicial execution and other crimes in relation to the deaths of indigenous protesters on October 4. Preliminary investigation by the Public Ministry established individual responsibility for six of the eight killings, all of unarmed protesters by military personnel. The investigation also indicates that the military deployment had been requested by the National Civil Police as backup for the riot police sent to evict the protesters’ roadblock, and that Col. Juan Chiroy Sal, the officer in command of the contingent, ignored recommendations by the police not to proceed to the site of the protest. Chiroy Sal is also accused of abandoning his command following the incident.
Legal complaints against President Otto Pérez Molina and Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto have also progressed and could lead to a vote by Congress on whether to revoke Pérez Molina’s Presidential immunity, as well as the forming of a congressional commission to investigate high-level responsibility for the incident in Totonicapán. Submitted by the opposition party LIDER, the complaint accuses both Molina and Anzueto of crimes including extrajudicial execution, violation of the Constitution, abuse of authority, and breach of duty. The progress of these cases, both against the soldiers and the high command, is sure to be controversial and charged with broad repercussions for the Patriot Party administration of Otto Pérez Molina and for Guatemala as a whole. Already Pérez Molina has committed to no longer employ military forces in operations to control demonstrations, and the fundamental issue of the military’s role in internal security is at question. Though combined military-police task forces are a central plank of Pérez Molina’s security policy, the curtailment of all military operations related to internal security has been called for by social movement and human rights organizations, as well as by the U.N. Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.
Social movement mobilization continues with a large-scale march in Guatemala City on October 12, recognized as the Day of Indigenous Resistance across the Americas. Indigenous, campesino, and popular sectors united to demand an end to militarization and top-down educational reform, as well as to proclaim indigenous peoples’ and rural communities’ demands to territory and self-determination. (See photos and coverage in Spanish via Marcha indigena campesina y popular, CPR-Urbana, and Guate Indymedia.) Calls for the destitution of Pérez Molina, Ulises Anzueto, and Interior Minister López Bonilla have continued. Diplomatic Chancellor Harold Caballeros’ name is also on the list of embattled public officials, with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú calling for his removal and denouncing as racist his statement diminishing the significance of the massacre. All of the officials have thus far refused to step down.
Related readings in English:
- At the Guardian, Vancouver/Coast Salish territories-based journalist Dawn Paley offers a closer look at the abuse of electricity fees in Totonicapán, one of the grievances behind protests by the 48 communities. The British company Actis/Energuate is the current owner of the privately-held electricity distribution system in Guatemala’s western highlands; a representative of the company blamed the Guatemalan government for the fee structure.
Operation Anvil mothballed?
A recent New York Times article reports that Operation Anvil–a drug interdiction initiative involving joint operations between U.S., Honduran, and Guatemalan security forces including D.E.A. commandos trained in counterinsurgency–has been prematurely shut down. The article cites concerns in the U.S. Congress regarding D.E.A. agents’ involvement in deaths related to the program, and the Honduran security forces’ implication in human rights violations and corruption, as justification for the suspension of joint operations and blocking by congressional Democrats of millions of dollars in additional security assistance. It is not clear from the article whether this affects all security assistance to Honduras, or whether it will affect the twin program Operation Hammer in Guatemala. CPR-Urbana has reported that equipment transferred from the U.S. to the Guatemalan military includes aircraft and boats, and that new U.S. forces in the country are based out of the department of Retalhuleu for coastal patrols. While it appears that Operation Anvil was suspended only shortly before it was due to finalize, any substantive move away from militarization in Central America should be seen as a positive step. For now, further investigation, monitoring, and advocacy is needed in the struggle against militarization in Central America.
Related readings in English:
- Alliance for Global Justice offers Nasim Chata’s article “U.S.’s Prison Imperialism In The Outskirts of the Empire,” with a more in-depth accounting of U.S. security assistance in Latin America via the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and other programs, connecting this with an analysis of the prison-industrial complex and its role in suppressing social conflict in the United States.
- Damon Barrett of Harm Reduction International explains “How International Aid for Drug Enforcement Fuels Human Rights Abuses” in the form of executions and harsh detention regimes in Asia.
Readings and updates: Zetas, Coronel Lima, and territorial struggle in Petén
- The Mexican Navy reported that Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, a.k.a. Zetas leader “Z-3”, was killed in a shootout earlier this month. It has now been revealed that Lazcano was only identified as after his body had already been stolen from a funeral parlor, an incident that has fueled speculation and conspiracy regarding Z-3’s fate. Early analysis suggests that the development favors the Sinaloa cartel, with control of the “fragmented” Zetas likely to be disputed among factions in a para-military organization that is reported to operate with a mix of hierarchy and decentralization. From 2008 through 2011, the Zetas were reported to have gained control of key drug trafficking territory in Guatemala, though a series of arrests may have affected their dominance. In Guatemala, the break up of the Zetas could lead to increased violence due to infighting and competition with other trafficking organizations, or a return to “traditional” family operations reliant on local support bases and official corruption rather than the Zetas’ outright violence and terror.
- Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada was released from prison for “good behavior” in July. Lima was convicted for the 1998 murder of human rights advocate Bishop Juan Gerardi, and served 11 years of a 20 year sentence. Lima’s release had been telegraphed by prison director Luis Gonzalez earlier this year; as a profile by the National Security Archive reveals, Lima was no ally of the “institutionalist,” pro-democracy faction of the military represented by Otto Pérez Molina and General Héctor Gramajo, instead serving as the personification of the Guatemalan military’s most hard-line and corrupt sectors. His release, therefore, may cement military support for Pérez Molina’s administration by placating the military intelligence officials who have lobbied for his release. Lima maintains his innocence in Gerardi’s brutal murder.
- Insight Crime has published translations of a series of articles about territorial conflict and displacement across Latin America, caused by narcotrafficking, agroindustry, and farming communities’ competing demands for land. The article about Guatemala’s Petén department, “Running From Your Own Shadow,” is particularly poetic and insightful, capturing both the human and environmental costs of crime and mega-development.