Guatemala: Peaceful Protests Face Violent Reprisals

By Rob October 18, 2023 No Comments

During the past two weeks in Guatemala I have witnessed many marches, protests, and blockades.

The petition of the Guatemalan people is a profoundly serious and grave one: corrupt government officials must resign. Now.

Yet the mood of the protests has been anything but somber. How would I describe them? Festive. Creative. Musical. Communal. Passionate. Patriotic. Peaceful. 

Friends, families, coworkers – entire communities – have joined their voices in demanding positive change for this long-beleaguered country. The people want transparency. They want a functional democracy. They want rule of law. And they want it now.

Stilt walkers participate in Guatemala's festive anti-corruption protests

Corrupt Is As Corrupt Does

Of course, a government official – a president, an attorney general, a judge, or a prosecutor, for example – isn’t labelled “corrupt” or “antidemocratic” for upholding the law or respecting the will of the people.

They represent other interests. Illicit interests. Illegal interests. Criminal interests. Powerful interests. 

While the Guatemalan people fight to defend their country, the corrupt work to undermine it for their own benefit.

The Guatemalan people are using song, dance, catchy slogans, and colorful banners to make their voice heard. The corrupt are using threats, violence, and physical force in an attempt to silence those voices.

Last week, in Guatemala City, masked men infiltrated the peaceful protest and began throwing rocks at the police, before rampaging through the streets smashing windows and causing senseless destruction. The police, of course, responded by tear-gassing the peaceful protestors.

Destruction caused by those who infiltrated the peaceful protests in Guatemala.
Damage caused in Guatemala City by masked infiltrators of the peaceful protests

In Malacatán, San Marcos, armed men (looking like extras from a ‘Breaking Bad’ episode) opened fire on the people gathered there, killing one and injuring others. The assassins were riding in a pickup registered to the local mayor and were escorted by police agents.

In Totonicapan, truckloads of soldiers attempted to provoke a violent reaction by aggressively entering the community. The military convoy was peacefully asked to leave. 

In Mazatenango, armed thugs attacked a Catholic priest and others who were praying at one of the roadblocks.

In many other parts of the country (Ixcan, Peten, Retalhuleu, etc.) community members have faced threats and attacks by armed groups violently trying to break up the blockades.

More Violence Yet to Come?

Attorney General Consuelo Porras, the focus of the anti-corruption protests, instead of resigning, has doubled down on her attacks against the Guatemalan people.

An indigenous woman from San Juan Sacatepequez carries the Guatemalan flag during a peaceful protest march against corruption in the government.

She publicly demanded that the government fire Minister of Interior (and head of the National Police) Napoleón Barrientos for failing to use violence in dispersing the protestors. Yesterday, Barrientos decided to resign. 

A retired Brigadier General, Byron René Bor Illescas, was immediately named to replace him.

Today, in what I’m sure is a complete coincidence (wink wink), Guatemala’s highly criticized Constitutional Court ordered the Minister of the Interior and the Director of the National Police to forcibly clear the protestors from the front of the Attorney General’s office, arresting any who are “committing flagrant crimes.s

It also ordered the Minister of Defense to provide military assistance, “if needed.”

The Court ordered that the forcible removal of the protestors must happen within the next six hours.

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