Guatemala: indigenous protests on Oct. 12

As has become traditional, thousands of indigenous people held meetings and staged protests in Latin America to mark the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ first landing in the Western Hemisphere in 1492. Oct. 12 is officially known in much of the region as the “Day of the Race” or the “Day of Spanishness.” In Guatemala several thousand indigenous people and campesinos marched in the capital to celebrate what they defined as the “Day of Dignity and Peaceful Resistance.”

The marchers chanted slogans against the government of President Oscar Berger and its pro-business economic policies; they demanded that the government ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and establish mechanisms for complying with Agreement 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which deals with indigenous rights. In a concluding rally in the Plaza Central, speakers noted that the indigenous population, which represents nearly half of the country’s 13 million inhabitants, still lives in extreme poverty.

The two candidates for president in the Nov. 4 runoff election, Alvaro Colom of the center-right National Hope Unity (UNE) and the rightwing retired general Otto Perez, were invited to attend the rally and receive a petition at the end; only Colom accepted.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 14

See our last post on Guatemala and Central America.

  1. Guatemala: electoral victory, continued repression
    Alvaro Colom has defeated Gen. Otto Perez Molina. The LA Times calls Colom “center-left” (which is a relative thing in Guatemala’s traditional political elite), and notes that Guatemalan politics remains as (shall we say?) colorful as ever:

    Perez Molina led in most preelection polls as Colom struggled in the face of repeated and highly personal attacks, many linked to corruption charges dating from his last run for the presidency in 2003.

    A slew of anonymous fliers and e-mails accused Colom of a variety of mortal sins, including links to drug cartels. He even felt compelled to issue a news release explaining that his study of Mayan religious rites did not mean he was an agent of the devil.

    Colom struck back by suggesting that Perez Molina would trample on civil liberties and return the country to a dark, authoritarian past, a theme that civil rights groups picked up.

    On Sept. 23, Marco Tulio Portela Ramirez, an organizer with the Banana Workers Union of Izabal (SITRABI), was gunned down outside his home as he prepared to go to work at the Bandegua banana plantation, a subsidiary of Del Monte Fresh Produce. (Upside Down World, Oct. 24)