Guatemala: police occupy town after violence

On Sept. 22 Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina declared a 30-day state of emergency in San Juan Sacatepéquez municipality in response to the deaths of at least eight indigenous Kaqchikel in a confrontation the night of Sept. 19-20 in the municipality's Pajoques community. Some 600 police agents were sent to the municipality; according to one report they were backed up by 1,000 soldiers. Under the state of emergency the police are free to break up any demonstration or public meeting held without government authorization. On Sept. 23 the police arrested five community members, charging them with murder, attempted murder, arson and illegal meetings and protests; there are warrants for several dozen other community members.

There is little agreement on what happened the night of Sept. 19-20, even on the number of deaths: press reports range from eight to 11. The confrontation was between supporters and opponents of two construction projects, a huge cement factory in the municipality and a section of a beltway around Guatemala City, and the two sides gave radically different accounts. Construction supporters—generally residents who have been hired by the cement factory's owners or have sold land for one or both of the construction projects—claim that the resistance activists are thieves and rapists who regularly harass and rob other community members.

Opponents of the construction charge that the incident started when 10 armed men from the factory entered Pajoques and fired on opponents, killing one and wounding two others. Community members say they called the national police soon after the shooting began but the police never arrived. All five of those arrested on Sept. 23 appear to belong to the resistance. Two claimed they had solid alibis. Celestino Turuy Pajoj, the director of a local school, said he was at a private university taking a law course, while José Dolores Pajoj Pirir said he was at a hospital with one of his sons at the time of the killings he is charged with. Two of his sons were shot at the beginning of the confrontation; one died and the other was hospitalized with injuries.

The Guatemalan firm Productos Mineros Limited, a subsidiary of Cementos Progreso, is the principal owner of the cement factory, holding 80% of the shares; the remaining 20% are held by the Swiss multinational cement company Holcim Ltd. Cementos Progreso is controlled by Guatemala's rightwing Novella family, which has contracts for millions of dollars worth of development projects arranged by President Pérez Molina and his Patriot Party (PP), according to a Sept. 22 report by the Guatemalan Independent Media Center. Cementos Progreso made large contributions to Pérez Molina's campaign in the 2011 presidential election. (Latin American Herald Tribune, Sept. 23, from EFE; Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Sept. 24, Sept. 27 from EFE; TeleSUR, Sept. 25; NACLA, Sept. 26)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 28.