New Internationalist

Narcos and Bushes

May 2007

Guatemala’s grim start to the year

It’s been a bad beginning to 2007 in Guatemala. First there was General José Efraín Ríos Montt, architect of the early 1980s’ genocide against the country’s majority Mayan population, announcing his latest political plans. The born-again Montt, a good friend of rightwing US evangelist Pat Robertson, held power between March 1982 and August 1983 when an estimated 200,000 people (mostly Mayan Indians) were either killed or ‘disappeared’.

Rumour has it that Ríos Montt’s run for Congress this coming September is connected to his indictment by the crusading Spanish Judge Santiago Pedraz for the crimes of ‘genocide, torture, terrorism and illegal detention’. If Ríos Montt manages to get himself elected to Congress, he will attain immunity from prosecution and extradition to Spain.

Next there was a bizarre set of killings wherein several highly placed Guatemalan police officials were implicated in the torture and murder of three deputies in the Congress of neighbouring El Salvador. The three were on a semi-official visit to Guatemala; they belonged to the rightwing ARENA Party and one, Eduardo D’Aubuisson, was the son of Roberto D’Aubuisson, the man behind so many of the 1980s’ Salvadorian ‘death squad’ killings. Arrests of four Guatemalan cops, including one Luis Arturo Herrera, former head of the Organized Crime Division of the National Police, followed quickly, based on the seemingly incontrovertible evidence of the GPS-tracking systems installed in their police cars. The arrested officers were taken (‘for their own safety’) to a prison in Cuilapa – 65 kilometres east of Guatemala City. There, with the obvious connivance of those in charge at the prison, a group of men entered their cells, shot them and cut their throats. While accusations are flying in all directions, sources in the know believe that these strange events provide a rare glimpse of the shadowy world of political and police corruption and narco-trafficking. In El Salvador 400 police were dismissed in 2006 for corruption, while in Guatemala 700 officers were under investigation and 1,038 had been dismissed.

To top it all off, George Bush came to town in early March. On the run from demonstrators in South America and on the losing end of his ‘war of words’ with Hugo Chávez, Bush’s farewell tour of Latin America was in desperate search of a safe haven. Chávez had launched himself on a competing tour of the region. Bush found a welcome from Conservative and ineffectual Guatemalan President Óscar Berger, although he must have been puzzled by all the talk of social justice and no more deportations of illegal Guatemalan workers from the US. He toured around a number of Maya sites. Despite the atmosphere of repression and violence, some 100 indigenous Maya in Tecpan found the courage to demonstrate against Bush. Mayan priests decided to hold a cleansing ceremony at the Iximche sacred archaeological site to get rid of the ‘bad spirits’ left by Bush’s presence. It will take many more such ceremonies and not a little political will to get Guatemala on a healthier track for the rest of 2007.


This column was published in the May 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 400

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