Saturday, November 3, 2012

Totonicapán Report Preview

By: Jefferson Tyler Francisco
      Vilma Guadalupe Dimas
       Jose Miguel Dimas

Friday, November 2, 2012

Photos from the Protest and Violence

These photographs were given to us by a young man from Totonicapán. Please contact us for more information regarding the photographer.

Demonstrators gathered at five different points along the highway. This photograph was taken at the entrance to Santa Caterina Ixtahuacan where soldiers opened fire on the crowd.

Immediately following the attack, Otto Perez and his Defense Minister, Ulises Anzueto, claimed that the soldiers were not armed.

Violence in Totonicapán

The photographer edited this photograph. (Right corner) You can see soldiers firing at unarmed demonstrators. (Lower left corner) The text reads: The rights to public assembly and demonstration cannot be restricted, diminished, or inhibited. -Article 33 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala: The right to assembly and demonstration.

In March, Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto stated that the 35-year-old US arms embargo against Guatemala was “thinking anchored in the past.” He claimed that the army has become professional since the civil war (1960-1996), and the US should allow weapons sales to flow to Guatemala once again. 

Protestas Pacificas: State Violence in Totonicapán

Eyewitness Accounts of the Totonicapán Masssacre

Eyewitness Accounts of the Totonicapán Masssacre

Jefferson Tyler Francisco                                                       November 1, 2012

Gert Rosenthal, Guatemala’s UN representative and this month’s President of the Security Council, spoke out against violence in his presidential statement on October 19.  He called attention to “attacks on the civilian population, the United Nations’ peacekeepers and humanitarian actors, as well as abuses of human rights.” He was condemning the M23 Congo Rebels, not the state violence being perpetrated against the Maya of his homeland Guatemala. 

On October 4, 2012 Guatemalan soldiers opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in Totonicapán, Guatemala killing 8 and wounding at least 40. Thousands of Maya men and women had blocked the Interamerican Highway that leads to Guatemala City. A wounded man explained that, “We were demanding our rights.  We were demanding “No” to the constitutional reform.  “No” to the 5 years for undergraduate teaching programs.  And “No” to the rise in electricity costs.”

Representatives from Totonicapán’s Maya communities planned to meet with the government that day to begin a dialogue on these issues. The roadblock was part of a strategy to prevent the government from balking at or stalling negotiations. When their representatives send word that negotiations are legitimate and working out, they open the road and allow traffic to continue. It is a peaceful means of demonstrating and forcing the government to listen to their representatives.

The Protest and The Violence

In the early afternoon, soldiers arrived and attacked the demonstrators. Five eyewitnesses who were wounded by gunfire spoke with us about the protest and violence. They made it clear that it was a peaceful and unarmed demonstration. As one of the wounded put it, “We felt the need to demand our rights, express our disagreement. That is why we went on Thursday. We were protesting peacefully, calmly you know.” Nevertheless, soldiers and anti-riot police fired tear gas and bullets into the crowd. As one of the wounded described it, “the truth is that when the riot police and soldiers arrived, all at once they arrived to attack the people. And they didn’t want anything. All at once they arrived and fired tear gas and suddenly they started shooting.” Another wounded stated , “I saw that they were soldiers.  They were well armed and well equipped. And we didn´t have anything to defend ourselves.  That’s why so many died.” Another explained the arrival of more soldiers, “After that, another military truck arrived. When they arrived, they also arrived to shoot directly at the people. They arrived. They shot directly at the people.The stories of these wounded men do not differ. In fact, they corroborate one another. 

The Reforms and Their Demands

The 48 Cantones of Totonicapán are asking the government to prevent an educational reform that would add two years to undergraduate teaching programs. The change would make it more difficult for indigenous people to become teachers. One of the wounded summed it up saying, “They raised it to 5 years that our children will have to study. And we do not want that. We are poor. Where are we going to get the money?” They are also asking to prevent constitutional reforms that could further marginalize the Maya from the state’s decision-making processes. The 48 Cantones also demand changes to government policy on electrification in the region. The privatization of the electricity distribution sector took place in 1998. The people of Totonicapán claim that the transnational corporation Energuate is raising the already abusive electricity fees while offering poor and inadequate service.

The Effects of State Violence

The effects of state violence can be devastating for both social movements as a whole and for the individuals. One of the wounded described what appears to be shell shock (PTSD), “What happened is very sad. The truth is, you continue with these painful memories of what happened that day. When you remember it, you feel like you are in that place. It is like you are still in that place, but only in your mind.”

The demonstration was a direct response to reforms and the privatization of electricity services. However, it is important to understand that the Maya also represent Guatemala’s largest opposition to metals mining, hydroelectric dams, highway construction projects, massive African Palm plantations, agrochemicals, etc. All of this activity displaces indigenous communities and damages important ecosystems. Nonetheless, enormous profits are at stake. The Maya represent the largest opposition to those who make lots of money with these projects.

Large demonstrations have been held in many of the country’s major cities to express solidarity with Totonicapán. The leaders of the 48 Cantones of Totonicapán met with the government to discuss the violence and their communities’ demands. 

The president Otto Perez Molina plans to visit Totonicapán November 21. It will be a very tense meeting, as most people in Totonicapán are calling for the president’s resignation. Many feel the president and Defense Minister are responsible. They point to the president’s military history. He was a high ranking general during the country’s civil war. Otto Perez Molina is suspected of ordering the mass slaughter of the Maya people in southwestern Guatemala. One young man in the hospital pointed out that, “This government is already accustomed to killing people. In the 80s it was him [President Otto Perez] who was in charge of the slaughter that took place in the entire south west of Guatemala. He was the one who murdered a lot of people. That is why he is already used to it. He wanted to do the same to us.”

One man in the town square explained his disappointment with the Public Prosecutor’s decision to arrest the soldiers and Colonel Juan Chiroy. “I regret to hear information coming from the newspapers and President Otto Pérez Molina when they say that soldiers are being turned in for investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and that the weight of the law falls upon them. Men and women of the media, you have to know how to listen and determine one thing.  Because the soldiers did not come on their own.  They were ordered.  They were sent, practically by the president who is the commander of the army. I think that the weight of the law should fall on the president, who technically is the one who ordered this.” He went on to add that, “May these words make it to the ears of the Minister of the Interior that has come to belittle the Guatemalan people, not only Totonicapán.  I believe that Guatemala should cry out today and denounce what the Minister of the Interior has always said, that he will continue to remove and disrupt by any means, because the law is in his hands.  But the law is not for killing.  The law is not for violating the rights of Guatemalan citizens. And wherever we can, we should act.”