Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Turmoil in Guatemala! Part 3

To add to the social unrest in Guatemala, there has also been a lot of political instability during the past 6 months. An international organization that fights corruption and impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) uncovered a massive tax evasion and bribery scheme involving high ranking government officials and influential members of the public and private sectors. This came on the eve of decision the president had to make whether or not to extend the agreement with CICIG to continue working in Guatemala. Initially it appeared that the president (Otto Perez Molina) would not renew the agreement, but when the evidence came out he did agree to allow CICIG to continue operating in country. He is probably regretting the decision now because of what has transpired since then. Initially, the secretary of the vice-president was implicated, but he disappeared without a trace. Some say he is in hiding while others suspect he is dead. After this the vice-president was implicated and she resigned and is currently awaiting trial. With her a number of key government officials and heads of the public sector where implicated and are awaiting trial. With all this coming out, Guatemalans started to protest by the tens of thousands in the streets demanding that the president resign. In his campaign he had promised to be tough on crime and corruption. However, his government has probably been the most corrupt as to date. It is estimated that they stole more than $100 million in taxes and bribes from the country. Even though people were demanding his resignation the president refused to step down. However, after months of weekly peaceful protests (sometimes more than 100,000 people) the president stepped down shortly before the national elections. By this time his immunity had been stripped away and he was left with no options. He is currently in custody awaiting trial. One wonders what will all come out in the trial and also what the West's involvement has been in all of this. Otto Perez Molina was a general in the US backed Guatemalan army during the civil war and was involved in several massacres of indigenous villages. One also wonders what arrangements have been made for him and others involved and whether or not they will ever be sentenced for their crimes.
Por Andrea Orozco y Byron VásquezRegardless this was an historic event in Guatemala. Never before had the pressure of the people of Guatemala been able to lead to a president resigning from office. Never before had the protests been peaceful and orderly. It seems that Guatemala might be turning a corner politically and socially with regards to democracy. It appears that God had also heard the prayers of thousands of Guatemalan Christians who have spent the past months praying and fasting for the country. Please join them and us in prayer for Guatemala and its government.

Turmoil in Guatemala! Part 2

A few days after the killings of bus drivers and their helpers, a banner was hung from an overpass in San Cristobal close to where the killings took place. The banner supposedly was hung during the night by a prominent drug cartel family or group of families. The banner had the following strong message to local criminals and gangs: "we would like to inform the residents of San Cristobal that the united cartels will rid this place of rats. Delinquents, extortionists, or kidnappers who are caught will be decapitated"! Many people living here applauded the message and were supportive, because the government has not been able to do anything to stem the violence. This response is rather disturbing, but at the same time people live in such fear that they are willing to "support" criminals who might deal with part of the problem. Drug cartels consist of dangerous criminals who also commit terrible acts of violence. Having said that, in Guatemala City it is a fact that neighborhoods controlled by drug dealers and cartels tend to be much safer than ones controlled by gangs (MS13, 18th Street). Most drug dealers do not like to attract attention to themselves or their neighborhoods. Drug dealers often deal with local criminals in their own quiet way to avoid the presence of police in their neighborhoods. However, in other parts of the country mass murders have occurred as rival cartels try to establish control and take over territory from others. Over the past 10 years, thousands of people have been killed by drug cartels and gang violence.

Turmoil in Guatemala! Part 1

Our first few days in Guatemala were filled with some disturbing events. On one day 4 bus drivers and their helpers were killed. Three of them were killed on the main road close to where we live in San Cristobal (a suburb of Guatemala City. Lia passed by the crime scene shortly after it happened with just the police on the scene. Like most crime scenes in Guatemala, people flock to the scene to be able to see. As the day wore on more people started gathering and protesting in the street and eventually the protests turned quite violent. Protesters blocked the road by burning tires causing huge traffic delays for motorists.

They demanded that the police and the government provide security and deal with the gangs who are killing bus drivers because the owners have not paid the extortion fees. The mob also attempted to “lynch” one of the suspects (some witnesses claimed that they were not the right ones), but the police were able to take them away. Lynching is quite common here especially in more rural areas,
A burned out police car in the after math of a lynching in San Miguel.
because people are fed up with the lack of justice. In many cases, criminals are able to bribe the authorities and get released from custody. For this reason, people decide to take justice into their own hands. If  the suspect is caught he/she is first beaten, then doused in gasoline, and set on fire. This of course is a cruel and horrible way to punish someone and it makes those involved with the lynching no better than the criminal. Also at times innocent people are killed. Recently in a town (San Miguel) close to Cubulco two suspects were burned alive for killing a bus driver.