On Wednesday, October 10th, intrepid Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz announced the arrest of eight soldiers and one colonial for the extrajudicial killings. President Perez Molina also announced that soldiers would no longer be used against peaceful protesters, blockades or in land takeovers. This is a step in the right direction, representing the first charges against military personal regarding their treatment of protesters since the end of the internal conflict. Observers must be vigilant to ensure that Perez Molina keeps his word, and that Attorney General Paz y Paz is not obstructed in her efforts to prosecute the perpetrators in the face of near certain resistance to the prosecutions of military personnel.
Guatemala continues to hover at the precipice: whether it will progress towards participatory civil society or revert inexorably back to repressive government control remains to be seen. The US and the rest of the international community must continue to shine the spotlight on Guatemala. President Perez Molina must be sent an unmistakable message: that his army cannot kill civilians with impunity and return into the days of unchecked military brutality, particularly against Mayan civilians. Guatemala faces daunting challenges, but it must avoid retrogressing.I started an op-ed on the killings a few times but never finished so I am glad that Lauren got one together to let the world community know about the recent tragedy in Guatemala.
I still hope that the events of October 4th mark a turning point in Guatemala. Following the horror that day and the poor responses of Perez Molina (they weren't armed) and Caballeros (hey look, indians die all the time here), those immediately involved were arrested; the international community and civil society condemned the events of that day and called on the government to stop using the military for internal policing matters; and the government announced that it will not use soldiers in these matters in the future. I'm not that optimistic, but I am hopeful.
The other issue is that I didn't know how to address was Otto Perez Molina. Sure, he ran on a mano dura platform against crime but that has really been the policy of successive Guatemalan governments in practice. The Colom government, while painting itself as the first government with a Mayan face, frequently used the military and police to disrupt protests. Mining activists and other protesters were killed and arrested during his term in office as well. I wouldn't have been surprised had this same incident played out under Colom. That's not to say that it wasn't a horrific incident. I was just having a harder time connecting the dots between Perez Molina and the shootings of the protesters.