Guatemala, desperate for change, terrorized by men in hoods

There have been more violent deaths after the 36-year armed conflict in Guatemala than there were during the war. Women and native Guatemalans are the majority of these deaths or disappearances. Last week Guatemalan journalist Lucia Escobar received threats after reporting on violence and missing people in the town of Panajachel.

Ms. Escobar wrote that a local security committee she referred to as the hooded ones are terrorizing the tourist town of Panajachel in the department of Sololá, and there has been no punishment because the men have impunity. These security committees are meant to protect the public, but tend to overstep their power and instill fear upon its so-called protected, she said. She claimed their crimes range from abuse of authority, torture, kidnapping, assassinations, social cleansing and summary executions.

An analysis of the news

Guatemala is a country where the people hoped for progress since the 1996 Peace Accords were signed. Instead it has retrogressed to a time of killing and fear. In the 1980s the fight, according to the dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, was to keep out insurgents from left-wing rebel groups. Yet during his one-year stint as president there was documented mass killings of the native people where soldiers destroyed more than 600 villages, according to truth commissions.

Within the past few years there has been an increase in disappearances, attacks and killing of native leaders in Guatemala. A country that has 23 different Mayan dialects and uses it’s native history as a symbol of the country to bring in tourists has downplayed the dangers facing the country.

The media have overplayed drug-trafficking and has not pointed out what Ms. Escobar dared say.

Leonardo Lisandro Guarcax was a Mayan leader and artist who was kidnapped, tortured and assassinated Aug. 25, 2010. He was on his way to work where he was principal of a school in the community of Sotz’il in the department of Sololá. He was the third person assassinated in his family within the 18 months leading to his death. No one has been held accountable for the murder.

Calixta Gabriel Xiquín is a Kaqchikel spiritual guide, activist, and accomplished author, who was brutally attacked and left for dead in Antigua, Guatemala in 2010. She was found unconscious and bleeding from a puncture wound in her head. That happened to save her life. The puncture allowed blood to flow which in turn didn’t form into cerebral hemorrhage. Her friends and family were scared to report her attack in fear that killers would return to finish the job if they found out the woman still was alive. For a time her friends and family kept her attack a secret. It was known only to her close circle of friends. No one has been held accountable for her attack.

These are only two victims, but these two people are leaders in their native community. There are more that are slowly coming to light. Fear withholds the criminal complaints. Ms. Escobar made a statement where she reported the disappearance of a youth in Panajachel, Now she is accused of drug trafficking by Juan Manuel Ralón Solórzano, a leader of the local security commission.

She may have some relief. Juan Manuel Ralón Solórzano and another leader of the Los Encapuchados or the hooded ones have been jailed, according to reports as this issue went to press. They face a litany of charges, including murder. They and their fellow members of the ad hoc security committee patrolled the streets at night wearing hoods, But police said they often were lawbreakers themselves.

The Guatemalan scapegoat for violence, femicide and recent disappearances is the infamous drug cartels and their trafficking. The country faced a presidential election where mano dura or a “strong hand” was the platform of both presidential candidates including Otto Perez Molina. He won the 2011 Guatemalan election by 54 percent. But is more violence the answer to end violence? The Guatemalan public can only hope for change.

Perez Molina has alleged ties to kidnapping, torture and killing of innocent people during his Guatemalan army general days in the 1980s. There are victims who have testified, but his court case is still in process. He continues to say he is innocent. If he is found guilty, he will have immunity during his four years as president of the Republic of Guatemala.

The fact that a former military man won the presidential election in a country tarnished by violence proves that the country is in a state of disarray and desperate to be safe.

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