Indigenous people in Guatemala were in the front lines of anti-government protests in late August, just a week before the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina on September 2. Perez Molina was then arrested on charges that he participated in a multi-million dollar fraud scheme.
But indigenous activists, along with tens of thousands of other Guatemalans, had been protesting against many of his policies since the Spring, which culminated in three days of non-stop protests from August 25-27.
Both individuals activists like Quiche writer, human rights leader and Anthropologist Irma Velazquez Nimatuj and groups such as the national Mayan organization known as Waqib Kej’ published detailed critiques of how Perez Molina and his administration had repressed and been involved with murders of indigenous people.
In a ten point memo addressed to Perez Molina, published in May, the Waqib Kej’ representatives asserted that, among other things: “During the time of your governing, general poverty was not reduced but stayed at 53 percent for the total population and, in the regions most densely populated by indigenous, poverty reached 80 percent; you militarized the administration of your government and public security and, as a result, general and organized violence averaged 11 homicides per day and 70 percent of citizens suffered extortion and the cases of violence against women and children increased; your government murdered the indigenous brothers of Totonicapan, you permitted the massacre of nine people in Pajoquez, San Juan Sacatepequez…; and you criminalized social dissent…and now more than 40 community leaders are imprisoned.”
A few months later during the August protests, Velazquez Nimatuj published a column in a national Guatemalan publication entitled “Otto Perez Molina: You lie! “Deep Guatemala” was never the center of your government.” In her op-ed column the writer provided a long list of charges of racism, murder, repression and theft against Perez Molina including a mention of how the president had denied that there had ever been genocide in Guatemala during the reign of Efrain Rios Montt.
“…you insisted publicly that in “Deep Guatemala” genocide had not been committed despite the almost one thousand items of proof, scientific evidence and testimonies from survivors that showed how he planned, persecuted and massacred the Ixil People (Maya) during the armed internal conflict…”
Some other protestors had also made connections between Perez Molina and Rios Montt but the main focus was the current administration.
Starting on Tuesday, August 25, Mayan, Quiche and other Indigenous Peoples started marching, shutting down highways and presenting speeches throughout the country. They were part of the Popular and Social Assembly (PSA) that included 72 rural and indigenous organizations from every region of Guatemala, along with thousands of university students and others.
In their flyer announcing the protests the PSA called Perez Molina a “shameless thief and murderer” and called for his immediate resignation. The flyer also asserted that the long walks and mobilizations would occur on the 25th and 26th, ending with a massive protest in the capital, Guatemala City, where protestors would set up demonstrations “in the four cardinal corners” of the city.
According to press sources, starting on the 25th groups of between 50 to 100 people were blocking main thoroughfares near the towns of Zunil, El Zarco and Nahaluate. Other examples include blockades of highways such as in Alta Verapaz in the north, Cuyotenango in the south and Coatepeque in the west.
At the same time in the center of the city of Quetzalentango, over 800 university students called for the immediate resignation of the president and suspension of the upcoming elections, while protestors shut down roads from the four cardinal directions leading into Guatemala City.
All of the protests mentioned the need for a National Constituent Assembly for a “profound reform of the Constitution of the Republic.”
While protestors did celebrate the resignation of Perez Molina on September 3, their other call for the National Constituent Assembly has not happened as of press time.