Esteemed President Otto Pérez Molina,
The undersigned organizations express our condolences to the community of San José Nacahuil and to the families of those who lost loved ones this past Saturday, September 7th. In solidarity with them, we call on the Guatemalan government to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the deadly attack, especially into allegations of police involvement.
On September 7 at 11pm, 24 people were shot by unknown men in the town of San José Nacahuil in the municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc, just north of Guatemala City. Eleven of the victims died at the scene.
Minister of the Interior Lopez Bonilla immediately blamed the attack on gangs and placed the community under the control of a special contingent of police and soldiers. However, relatives of those killed suspect that the police may have facilitated the crime, or even carried it out. According to various reports, police arrived 20-30 minutes before the shooting, stopping at a few businesses demanding bribes. Community members also claim that the killers followed the same route through town on their killing spree that the police had taken minutes earlier. The Vice Minister of the Interior, however, immediately dismissed the possibility of police involvement.
Community authorities of San José Nacahuil, as well as other indigenous and grassroots organizations, criticized Bonilla for attributing the crime to gangs without first investigating. Further, they demanded that the police and military be removed from the community. Family members of the victims have also asked for an investigation into the police and their role in the shooting.
San José Nacahuil is the only indigenous community in San Pedro Ayampuc. The population is made up of Maya Kaqchikel people, and the town has its own authorities, including a community police force. Residents expelled the national police six years ago, and local officials report a reduction in crime since that time.
Like many indigenous communities in Guatemala, the people of Nacahuil have suffered attempts to impose development projects without their free, prior and informed consent. In response, many residents of Nacahuil have participated in non-violent resistance, such as the ongoing peaceful road blockade at “La Puya” in the neighboring municipality of San José de Golfo. The blockade began in March of 2012 to prevent the construction of the El Tambor gold mine, which they fear will cause contamination and deplete scarce water resources. The mine is currently operated by Kappes, Cassidy & Associates (KCA) based in Reno, Nevada, which acquired the project from Vancouver-based Radius Gold in August 2012.
In other struggles against mega-development projects in Guatemala, including Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine in San Rafael las Flores and Hidralia Energia’s hydroelectric dam in Santa Cruz Barillas, violence was used as a pretext by the government to declare a state of siege, which suspends constitutional rights. In both instances, the government then ordered the arrest of resistance movement leaders.
Members of La Puya signaled concern in the days leading up to the attack regarding increased police presence, including agents not assigned to local stations. In the past, the police have been used to try to intimidate and disburse groups involved in peaceful protest. In December of last year, police wielding tear gas arrested four protesters. All were released the same day due to a lack of evidence of any illegal activity.
We express our condolences to the families of those who have lost their loved ones and to the community of San José Nacahuil. We call on the Guatemalan government to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into Saturday’s deadly attack, especially into allegations of police involvement, with the assistance of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.
Further, we demand that the rights of the residents of Nacahuil and the surrounding region be respected, including their rights to life, security, and freedom of expression. Nacahuil has maintained effective security in their own community, and we ask the government to respect their call to withdraw members of the police and military. Finally, we call on the government to respect the rights to protest and to free, prior and informed consent over mega-projects that may affect their lives and lands.
Breaking the Silence, Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network (LACSN), MiningWatch Canada, Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network, Horizons of Friendship, Global Exchange, SalvAide, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), Social Justice Committee of Montreal, Projet Accompagnement Québec Guatemala (PAQG), Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, OPSEU Social Justice Fund, Oxfam