Guatemala: military removes squatters in capital —twice

After living on land in the center of Guatemala City since January, a group of about 100 impoverished families were forced to move at least twice during the week of Aug. 13 as the result of an eviction order obtained by the Defense Ministry, which claims the property. Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Erick Escobedo said the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction had mandated the eviction on the grounds that the land was unstable; the disaster agency didn’t return phone calls when the Associated Press tried to confirm Escobedo’s statement.

The families had originally put up their houses near the La Asunción bridge in Zone 1, naming the settlement Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, after a president deposed in 1954 in a military coup largely engineered by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The military removed the families peacefully from that land on Aug. 14, but the squatters then settled on nearby land also claimed by the military. Security forces evicted the families from the new settlement on Aug. 15, this time violently. Following the second removal, the families set up shelters on in the nearby Gerona neighborhood on land which may belong to the government. As of Aug. 16 they hadn’t been removed from the new location.

“We don’t have anywhere to go, and the only response we’ve gotten from the government is repression,” Vilma Rodríguez, one of the group’s leaders, told reporters. “We don’t make enough to rent a room or buy some land.” “Let the government tell us where, and we’ll go,” she added. According to official figures, more than a million families now live in settlements known as “poverty belts” that surround the country’s main cities. In January the Congress approved a National Housing Law to provide decent residences for impoverished Guatemalans, but the government has yet to allocate the resources to implement the legislation. (EFE. Aug. 16, via Siglo 21, Guatemala; Associated Press, Aug. 16, via Miami Herald; Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Aug. 17)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 19.

See our feature, OCCUPY GUATEMALA: Shantytown Dwellers Occupy Congress—And Win