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String of Killings Leaves Five Guatemalan Activists Dead

While Guatemala attempts to bring former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt to justice in a landmark genocide trial, deadly violence elsewhere in the country continues unpunished. In less than one month, five activists and human right defenders struggling against mining companies and fighting for land and labor rights have been murdered in rural areas.

Tomas Quej, a young indigenous leader from Baja Verapaz, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the heart on February 26, 2013, as Comunicarte [es] reported. Quej had just won a long struggle in court for the lands of his community. He had seven children, including a newborn.

Right after Quej's murder, indigenous union and campesino leader Carlos Hernández Medoza was murdered on his way back from Honduras on March 8. Hernández was a prominent leader who rallied various sectors in his community and region. Frontline Defenders reported:

Carlos Hernández Mendoza was a leader in the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Salud de Guatemala – SNTSG (National Health Workers Union of Guatemala), as well as a member of the social revolutionary movement Frente Nacional de Lucha – FNL (National Struggle Front), Coordinadora de Organizaciones Populares, Indígenas, Iglesia, Sindicales, Campesinas de Oriente – COPIISCO (Coordinator of Popular, Indigenous, Religious, Workers and Farmer Organisations of the Oriente) and Asociación Campesina Camoteca (Camotán Campesino Organisation).

Xinca mourning by Rodrigo Baires Quezada for Plaza Publica, under a Creative Commons Attribution license. http://www.plazapublica.com.gt/content/duelo-xinca

Xinca mourning by Rodrigo Baires Quezada for Plaza Publica, under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

On March 13, 68-year-old indigenous Tzutuhil leader Gerónimo Sol Ajcot was brutally murdered by masked men on his way to work.

Four days later, Encarnación López Ucelo, an outspoken leader from the minority Xinca indigenous group, was murdered and three of his colleagues were kidnapped, beaten and then released. The group was demonstrating against mining operations by Canadian company Tahoe Resources and the murdered leader was also involved in land disputes, another possible cause of the criminal act. There are still concerns for the safety of the surviving leaders, as an urgent action appeal by Amnesty International explained:

On 17 March, four Xinca leaders – Encarnación Marcos, Rigoberto Aguilar, Rodolfo López and Roberto González – participated in a public event held in the El Volcancito hamlet, San Rafael Las Flores, where they acted as observers at a community-organized consultation on mining in the area. Following the event, the four men left El Volcancito at 8.30pm. At approximately 9.15pm, as they were approaching Mataquescuintla, approximately 12 men in two trucks stopped their vehicle. The heavily armed men, who were wearing balaclavas, forced them into the trucks. Rigoberto Aguílar and Rodolfo López were released at different times during the night. Rigoberto Aguílar had reportedly been beaten.  In the early morning of 18 March, Encarnación Marcos was found dead. His body had been thrown into a ditch and his hands were tied. One of the pickup trucks had been left near the corpse.

An appeal was also launched on Causes calling to stop violence against mining activists in Guatemala.

The most recent victim, as reported by Albedrio [es], was union leader Santa Alvarado, who was fighting for the rights of health sector workers. She was kidnapped and found strangled. Alvadro leaves two little children behind and adds to the outrageous number of women killed in Guatemala.

As the report of the Guatemalan Truth Commission concluded and the genocide trial against former dictator Rios Montt et al confirms, Guatemala has a long and painful history of repression of peasants, social leaders, unionists, women, and children.

In fact, as No a la Mina (No to the mine) pointed out [es], the recent repression resembles the death squad operations that once left thousands of leaders killed in Guatemala. If social conflicts are going to be solved with a gun and left in absolute impunity, Guatemala's future looks just like its grim past.

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