Violence broke out in an indigenous community last week in Guatemala after a peaceful protest against the unjust policies of the mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiché, Estuardo Castro. The brutal attack against the K’iché hearkened back to Guatemala’s brutal history of repressing indigenous populations.
On Wednesday night, July 4th, the indigenous K’iché Community Council blocked one of the main roads in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala. Four hundred people peacefully gathered at eight in the morning to denounce the racist attitudes and policies of mayor Estuardo Castro from the political party Partido Patriota. During the protest the K’iché insisted on a dialogue between their community and the municipality. Instead, they were surrounded by 54 riot police officers and more than 40 regular police officers. Despite the tension, the protesters remained calm.
As they returned from their protest, several members of the K’iché community remained outdoors discussing the events. After a while, some women boarded a small bus to return to work. Then, according to Yoni Reyes, 24, a representative of the community, the bus was intercepted by a group of people armed with sticks, rocks, machetes and knives. The attackers stabbed a woman, stoned an 11-year-old girl, and knocked a woman’s teeth out. They then forced some of the women to exit the bus and began to shout,“where is Lolita Chávez?” (a well-known community leader).
Fortunately, Chávez was able to escape safely and inform the others of what was happening. They immediately called the police. The protesters who were near left to help the group that was being attacked. When the police arrived, they refused to help and said that they had brought this attack upon themselves. The group outside the bus was surrounded by the aggressors and police and then forced to leave.
Reyes, 24, says that much of the political tensions began because of Estuardo Castro’s dealings with a foreign company by the name of DEORSA, which generates and distributes electric energy in Guatemala. The mayor blames the K’iché for blocking the company’s development on their lands. The K’iché believe that these developments would pollute their land and contaminate their water, damaging wildlife and increasing the rates of cancer.
“The Guatemalan government is repressive, racist, and discriminatory against indigenous communities,” Reyes says. “The government has not respected international agreements such as the 169 OIT (International Work Organization), United Nations treaties, and Guatemala’s Article 66.”
Unfortunately, these kinds of repressive measures are common and stem from Guatemala’s long history of violence. Their brutal civil war lasted from 1960-1996. The U.S. exacerbated the conflict by assisting the national intelligence, training officers in counterinsurgency techniques, and backing a military coup. During this period, more than 200,000 people were killed, 83% or which were Mayan. 100,000 women were raped as a method to destroy their culture. Perhaps the most well known activist and member of the K’iché community is Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, who charged General Efraín Ríos Montt and seven other commanders with genocide, terrorism and torture.
The legacy of repression and cruelty was continued in the 2011 presidential election. In November 2011, the retired General Otto Pérez Molina, who is linked to the Guatemalan genocide, was elected president. In addition, gangs, random crime, and Mexican drug cartels are also currently ravishing the country.
The brutal attack on the K’iché on July 4th is only one of many examples of this deeply embedded culture of violence. If the international community does not hold the Guatemalan government accountable for the violation of treaties and agreements, the brutality will likely continue.
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She contributes to ;The Huffington Post, ;AlterNet, ;and ;Mamiverse. ;Her nonfiction has appeared in ;Jezebel, ;Ms. Magazine, and ;American Public Media. ;You can find her on ;Facebook, ;Twitter, ;or ;erikalsanchez.com.