Guatemala: another union leader assassinated

Masked assailants gunned down Marco Tulio Ramirez Portela, a leader of the Izabal Banana Workers Union (SITRABI), on Sept. 23 as he leaving his home for work on a banana plantation in the northeastern Guatemalan department of Izabal. Human rights organizations are calling on the Guatemalan government to investigate the murder, bring those responsible to justice and work to prevent future attacks against union leaders; people can support this call through a website link. [Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA]

SITRABI has been the target of attacks for years. In 1999, some 200 armed men, including local business leaders, seized the union hall and assaulted union members. In November 2006, assailants stoned and then shot at a SITRABI-owned vehicle driven by an elected union officer. In late July 2007, military officers forcibly entered SITRABI’s headquarters and demanded the identities of the union’s leaders. Ramirez was murdered just three days after SITRABI learned that the Defense Ministry had disciplined military officers in response to SITRABI’s complaints about the unlawful entry.

Four representatives of Guatemalan unions have been murdered so far in 2007, including Pedro Zamora, head of the Union of Workers of the Quetzal Port Enterprise (STEPQ), in January. The government has yet to charge anyone in Zamora’s death. (Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Sept. 27, based on information from STITCH, Solidarity Center-AFL-CIO, the Center for Labor Studies and Support-CEAL)

On Sept. 25 Guatemalan authorities reported that the bodies of four young men and one teenager had been found near a highway in the northwestern part of Guatemala City. Reports differ on whether the victims had been shot or strangled. Family members reported the youths missing on Sept. 22, telling the government’s human rights office that they were kidnapped by police agents who came in three vehicles. Officials said they were investigating the possibility that the Rapid Action Group (GAR) of the national police was involved in the kidnapping, which took place in the capital’s high-crime El Gallito neighborhood. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Sept. 26 from AP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 30

See our last posts on Guatemala and Central America.