Over the last week, we have listened with growing horror as news reached us from Monte Olivo, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Since 2010, residents of the region who oppose the construction of the Santa Rita hydroelectric dam have been victim to various attacks, including one in August 2013 that left two young boys dead.
Then, last week, according to the Prensa Comunitaria, the government deployed over 1,000 police to Monte Olivo to evict 160 families of the community 9 de Febrero. As helicopters flew overhead, police and day laborers destroyed homes and assaulted residents, leaving several people injured. Five people were also arrested in Monte Olivo, as well as two others in nearby Raxruhá. In response, hundreds of people blocked the highway to prevent the passage of the police. In an ensuing conflict between protesters and police, three men were killed in the community of Semacoch, allegedly by police gunfire, and several people were injured, including six police. Eight police were also detained by protesters, but have since been released.
Residents of Semacoch report that, though days have passed since the shooting, no one has come to investigate the area where the three men were killed.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Lopez Bonilla announced that joint police-military forces will be installed in the departments of Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz. Despite the suspicious timing, the Minister claimed that the forces would be placed there to combat drug trafficking. Meanwhile, residents of 9 de Febrero are left with their homes and belongings destroyed, many of them hiding in the woods fearing further violence or arrests.
As outrage echoes across the US in response to the excessive use of force by police in Ferguson, MO, and Americans are confronted by the militarization of local police here, it’s crucial to understand how we have also exported our policing models to our neighbors. It should come as no surprise that forces funded, and often trained by the US government, just like the police in Ferguson, see the people they are tasked with protecting as enemies.
Like the body of Michael Brown, the bodies of Sebastián Rax Caal, Luciano Can Cujub, and Oscar Chen Quej were left by the police where they fell. And like many residents of Ferguson, the people of Semacoch fear that whoever killed the three men will never be held accountable.
In response to the arrival in the United States of alarming numbers of unaccompanied children from Central America, one of the solutions put forward by President Obama has been for increased funding to the police and militaries of Guatemala, as well as Honduras and El Salvador. But how do we expect assistance from the US, whose own police are militarized and reactionary, to Guatemalan security forces to reduce violence against children? Instead, this weekend’s violence has demonstrated once again how Guatemala’s security forces, with US backing, are deployed against communities who dare to oppose projects which would displace them.
Please, take a moment to email your members of Congress and ask them NOT to vote for additional funds for Guatemalan military or police. Please also keep the people of Monte Olivo, Semacoch and neighboring communities in your thoughts and prayers as they mourn their dead and pick through the rubble where their homes recently stood.