Guatemala: bishop recieves death threats for defending campesinos

Rights workers in Guatemala are calling upon the government to protect a Roman Catholic bishop from assassination after a rash of threats. Mgr. Álvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of San Marcos, has been warned that he will be killed unless he withdraws his support for landless peasants who are protesting the issuance of mining permits to a Canadian multinational corporation (Goldcorp Inc.).

On March 31 a nun was stopped while driving her car through the town of San Marcos and given a note to deliver to the bishop, warning him of the consequences of his actions. Bishop Ramazzini is president of the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference of Guatemala and the Church’s representative to the “High Level Commission” formed to coordinate exploitation of the region’s natural resources with local communities. He has drawn the ire of landowners for backing the campesinos’ land claims in the region.

In January 2005, Guatemalan President Óscar Berger blamed Bishop Ramazzini for riots in San Marcos after police shot a campesino during anti-government protests. President Berger said the bishop was an “authentic leader” who should have controlled the protesters.

Along with other bishops, Ramazzini also played a keu role in the 1996 Peace Accords that ended Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war. He also co-authored a 1998 report detailing human rights abuses. Two days after the report was released the principal author of the report, the Archbishop of Guatemala Juan Gerardi, was bludgeoned to death.

Bishop Ramazzini was a witness in the Gerardi murder case, which saw three army officers and a priest convicted in the murder. In 2005 he testified before the US Congress on rights violations in Guatemala and urged rejection of CAFTA, saying it would serve only to exploit the campesinos, who make up 95% of the population.

In an April 1 letter to current Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) demands that “the necessary measures be taken to guarantee the safety and physical integrity of Monsignor Álvaro Ramazzini and to ensure that such threats cannot be carried out in a Guatemala where all citizens can freely enjoy their fundamental rights.” (Religious Intelligence, UK, April 14)

See our last posts on Guatemala, Central America and mineral cartel in Central America.