Political Violence in Guatemala

On September 25, FRG presidential candidate General Efrain Rios Montt staged a campaign rally in Playa Grande, Quiche, former site of the main military command for the area most affected by state violence during Rios Montt’s 1982-83 dictatorship. Local human rights organizations staged an opposing rally, but were attacked by FRG supporters. After violence broke out, journalists were attacked even more severely than the human rights goups. The journalists were chased down, with the FRG yelling “Fucking journalists! You can criticize the General in the capital, but out here we’re going to kill you!” The press escaped by reaching a police escort, after one FRG supprter called out “Bring gasoline! We’re going to burn them!”(1) Far from calming the crowds, FRG speakers on stage encouraged the attack against journalists.(2) Back in Guatemala City, FRG members of Congress denied the violence, and Luis Fernando Perez told critics that “You weren’t there; I was there, and nothing
 happened.”(3) Four days later, after two more journalists were threatened at an FRG meeting, FRG Congressman Aristides Crespo commented that “What happens at the meetings is a spontaneous reaction.”(4)

The official Guatemalan human rights investigation office (PDH) requested police protection for two members of the Supreme Electoral Council (TSE), the body which organizes and oversees affairs of elections and voting in Guatemala. Miguel Angel Solis, TSE chief of citizen registration, and Francisco Garcia Cuyun, TSE chief of political organization, were threatened in a phone call to Solis saying “Be very careful, they’re going to fuck you up.”(5)

Rigoberta Menchu, indigenous and human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was attacked by a crowd of FRG supporters inside the building of the Constitutional Court (CC) on October 10. Menchu arrived to present a denunciation of the inscription of Rios Montt as presidential candidate, but was surrounded by a crowd of FRG who held her captive for half an hour, yelled insults and racial slurs, and even punched her once. While this happened, Mario Ruiz Wong, president of the CC, watched without intervening, three members of Congress verbally encouraged the attack, and six police agents left the building without taking any action.(6)

Two political activists were killed on October 14, making a total of at least 22 candidates and activists killed since November 2002. The two were husband and wife, and volunteered as activists for the GANA party in Puerto de San Jose, Escuintla. They were killed when their car was shot with 26 9mm bullets.(7)

On a tour in Mexico at the end of September, the Guatemalan Minister for Foreign Relations, FRG Edgar Armando Gutierrez, commented that in Guatemala “today there are no more political persecutions or political assassinations, as there were in the past.”(8)

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Lawyers Committee for Human Rights sent a letter to Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, calling for the creation of a Commission to Investigate Illegal Organizations and Clandestine Security Bodies (CICIACS). “The clandestine groups responsible for the political violence seem to have connections with government institutions and organized crime,” wrote Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americs Division of Human Rights Watch.(9)

General Rios Montt commented in a rare interview that “I respect Black Thursday because of the the grassroots organizing.” (“El Jueves Negro lo miro con respeto, por el movimiento popular.”)(10) “Black Thursday” refers to the July 24 and 25 riots in Guatemala City in which masked FRG supporters terrorized passersby and attacked journalists in favor of Rios Montt’s inscription as presidential candidate.

French President Jacques Chirac expressed his concern for the authorization of Rios Montt as presidential candidate. The General’s daughter, Zury Rios Sosa, denied that such a comment had been made. “The press has problems with translation, and miscommunicates information,” said Rios Sosa.(11)

This has been the most violent year in Guatemala since the end of the civil war in 1996. By October 3, 2,832 people had been murdered, and 26,243 suffered gunshot wounds. Violence increased only 5% between 1999 and 2002, but, due to many factors including especially the ruling FRG’s unwillingness to control crime due to their personal involvement in illicit activities, violence has increased 163% in the last nine months.(12) 103 women have been killed this year, the majority of them showing signs of rape and torture,(13) and there have been 250 kidnappings so far, as opposed to 111 in 2002 and just 35 in 2001.(14) In the countryside, with little to no police presence and no access to the justice system, vigilante justice resulting in burning, lynching or stoning a person to death is common. 16 people have been killed in this fashion so far this year,(15) and many more have escaped attempts on their lives, often for minor crimes such as stealing a chicken.(16) Sergio Morales of the
 PDH human rights office believes that the number of denunciations received by his office this year will surpass 40,000, in comparison with 22,000 in 2002.(17)

The EMP presidential guard, active in brutal repression during the war, including the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi and anthropologist Myrna Mack, is set to be dismantled on October 31, 2003. However, a law passed by the FRG on September 24 allows for as many EMP members to be absorbed by the SAAS as possible. In addition, the person in charge of the new organization will be nominated by the president, and can be either civilian or military.(18)

With just over three weeks before its dissolution, a budget transfer to the EMP raised the organization’s total funds for the year to Q134 million ($16.7 million US), Q30 million more than its original.(19) Guatemalan law allows for monetary adjustments to budgets through inter-fund transfers, but this system is widely abused in favor of the military. In September, a Q150 million transfer to the military was announced, adding to the Q950 million initial budget for the armed forces. In 2001, an additional Q709.6 million was added to the original Q836.9 million military budget.(20)

The FRG has presented a law before Congress which would give additional privileges to the military and their families. Among other changes, members of the military would never be able to be tried in a civilian court, the president will have the military at his disposal for personal protection, despite the dissolution of the EMP; and free medical services would be provided free of charge to members of the military, their parents and spouses, and their children up to the age of 21.(21)

Robin Moran, Guatemalan Defense Minister, has announced that the military will remain in its barracks during the November 9 elections.(22) Between November 6 and November 10, the National Civilian Police (PNC), the Municipal Transit Policec (PMT) and the Municipal Police (MP) will be under the control of the Supreme Electoral Council (TSE).(23)

In Totonicapan, the FRG have censored the play, “El General Ya Tiene Quien Lo Inscriba.” The title is a take-off of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “No One Writes to the Cornel,” and the play is critical of General Rios Montt, his inscription as presidential candidate, and the FRG in general.(24)

(1) “Disturbios por visita de Rios.” Prensa Libre, 25 September 2003, pp. 2-3.

(2) “Mitin del FRG en Playa Grande termina a golpes.” Nuestro Diario, 25 September 2003, pp. 2-3.

(3) “Disturbios por visita de Rios.” Prensa Libre, 25 September 2003, pp. 2-3.

(4) “Eferregistas atacan a la prensa.” El Periodico, 29 September 2003, p. 8.

(5) “PDH pedira proteccion para el TSE.” Prensa Libre, 27 September 2003, p. 4.

(6) “Agreden a Rigoberta Menchu durante audencia en la CC.” El Periodico, 10 October 2003, p. 3.

(7) “Ultiman a 2 activistas.” Prensa Libre, 15 October 2003, p. 36.

(8) “Canciller desmiente violencia politica.” Prensa Libre, 1 October 2003, p. 6.

(9) “ONG estadounidenses piden a la ONU la creacion de la CICACS.” El Periodico, 10 October 2003, p. 10.

(10) “A un mes de las elecciones, Rios Montt se abre a la prensa nacional.” El Periodico, 11 October 2003, p. 2.

(11) “Inscripcion de Rios Montt preocupa a presidente frances.” Prensa Libre 14 October 2003, p. 10.

(12) “Repunte brusco de la violencia.” Prensa Libre, 4 October 2003, p. 4.

(13) “Desesperadas por impunidad.” Prensa Libre, 26 September 2003, p. 2.

(14) “Este ha sido el año mas violento.” El Periodico, 29 September 2003, p. 4.


(16) “Por robar una gallina, mujer a punto de ser linchada.” El Periodico, 16 October 2003, p. 8.

(17) “En aumento violaciones a los derechos humanos.” Prensa Libre, 11 October 2003, p. 2.

(18) “FRG aprobo ley ded la SAAS; hay descontento.” Prensa Libre, 25 October 2003, p.8

(19) “Mas fondos para el EMP.” El Periodico, 7 October 2003, p. 4.

(20) “Evolucion del presupuesto del Ejercito.” Prensa Libre, 6 October 2003, p. 6.

(21) “FRG promueve devolver privilegios al Ejercito.” Prensa Libre, 1 October 2003, p. 3.

(22) “Ejercito no saldra en comicios.” Prensa Libre, 15 October 2003, p. 12.

(23) “TSE controlara fuerzas de seguridad.” El Periodico, 14 October 2003, p. 6.

(24) “FRG censura obra de teatro.” Prensa Libre, 4 October 2003, p. 2.

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