Guatemala

In recent weeks, there has been a dramatic wave of violence and repression in Guatemala that has led to the deaths of many human rights activists. Among them are peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists and indigenous peoples. In light of this, the Guatemala Peace and Development Network (RPDG) has sent out an urgent request for support and solidarity from around the world to bring pressure to bear on the Guatemalan government to halt this repression.
Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt will finally face prosecution for his crimes. After a year of house arrest, Montt became the first former head of state to be charged with genocide in a Latin American court on January 28. The prosecution believe they have compelling evidence that Montt led a campaign to ethnically cleanse the Central American state of its indigenous Mayan population. Though he is being charged in relation only to the deaths of 1771 Mayans, about 200,000 people were killed or went missing during Guatemala's 1960-96 civil war.
Protests against an attempt to stifle student participation in elections for representatives to faculty boards have triggered one of the most important student occupations seen in Central America in recent years. The occupation, which began in August, has shut down Guatemala’s sole public university, the University of San Carlos (USC). It has become a direct challenge to the privatising agenda of successive governments and university administrations.
Recently declassified documents from US archives have shed further light on the extent of US complicity in Guatemalan human rights crimes, one of Latin America’s most brutal examples of population control. The hard-working farmers of Dos Erres, in Peten department, had never asked for much — just a few acres of recently-cleared land from which to scratch a meagre living in a country racked by violence.
Since October, dozens of social leaders have been shot and eight killed in the struggle between Spanish-based oil and gas multinational Union Fenosa and communities in the west of the country. On October 24, Victor Galvez was shot 32 times as he left his office, where he was meeting with neighbours whose electricity supply had been cut off by one of Union Fenosa’s subsidiaries. Opposition to Union Fenosa began with the privatisation of electricity supply in 1999, with the multinational as the main beneficiary.
On January 15, Pedro Zamora, the general-secretary of the dock workers’ union STPEQ was murdered by armed assassins, who sprayed more than 100 bullets at his car. Zamora had been leading a campaign against the privatisation of the Quetzal port. Zamora’s 3-year-old son was injured in the attack. In a January 17 statement issued by the International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC general secretary Guy Ryder said: “This gruesome killing recalls the darkest days of Guatemala’s decades of civil conflict, and the country’s reputation will continue to suffer unless action is taken to root out and punish those who commission and perpetrate intimidation and murder. This murder was planned and premeditated, and appears designed to send a message to those who dare to stand up for fundamental rights.” For information on the ITUC’s international campaign to demand justice, visit <csi.org>.

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