Guatemala: activists killed as vote nears

In the three days from Aug. 4 to Aug. 6, unknown assailants carried out three attacks against activists for the leftist Gathering for Guatemala (EG) party and two of its candidates in Sept. 9 national and local elections. The EG’s presidential candidate is indigenous human rights activist and 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum, who is in fourth place in opinion polls.

On Aug. 5 police found the body of Carlos de Leon Bravo in the trunk of a car in the village of Monterrey I, about 112 miles southwest of Guatemala City. The victim was the EG’s mayoral candidate for Santa Catarina, near the Mexican border in San Marcos department; he had apparently been shot dead on Aug. 4. On Aug. 6 a group of armed men fired on the home of Olga Lucas, an EG candidate for Congress. Her two teenage daughters were wounded in the attack; one had to be placed in intensive care. Also on Aug. 6, three armed men fired at Cesar Montes, a rebel commander in the 1960-1996 civil war and now the EG’s spokesperson on agrarian issues. His bodyguard and his mechanic were injured. Montes called the incident an assassination attempt and said he shot back at his assailants.

At least two EG candidates were killed before August. One, Liberato Granados, the EG candidate for mayor of Zacapa, 104 miles east of Guatemala City, was killed on May 27.

As of Aug. 8 there had been more than 50 attacks on candidates, activists or family members of activists from various political parties during the campaign; 38 people have died in the attacks. The center-right National Hope Unity (UNE) has suffered the most losses, with 18 candidates or activists killed. UNE presidential candidate Alvaro Colom, the front runner in polls, has been trying to clear organized crime out of the party. “Drug traffickers are embedded in the UNE,” EG candidate Menchu told the Reuters wire service. “They opened the doors to an ominous element.”

In the Sept. 9 election the country’s more than 5.9 million voters will be able to choose the president and vice president, the 159 legislative deputies in the unicameral Congress, and mayors of the 332 municipalities (Univision, Aug. 6 from AFP; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 8; Boston Globe, Aug. 9 from Reuters)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 12

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