Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) and the leftist Gua- temalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), was ap- parently beaten by the police and then killed with a shot to the head at point blank range. There were a number of wounded among the campesinos.
A statement issued by the MICSP charged that the repression of the CAFTAprotests “is reminiscent of the darkest years of the country’s recent history,” a refer- ence to the counterinsurgency of the 1980s. “Now Gua- temala isn’t suffering from a military dictatorship, but it suffers instead from a dictatorship of business interests.” Human rights, religious, solidarity, and academic groups from the US, Canada,Austria, and Japan expressed their concern regarding the use of violence and aggression by Guatemalan security forces in an open letter. Not only describing concern regarding the death of a campesino, the letter also details that the use of the military in internal security is a violation of the 1996 PeaceAccords.
The US Congress is also questioning the militar- ies’ repressive tactics. Eleven US lawmakers urged the Guatemalan government to fully investigate fatal violence by security forces against protesters. “Given the long his- tory of the Guatemalan state’s violent responses to pro- test, we regard official claims that police were fired upon and that the heavy-handed response was necessary ... with a healthy degree of skepticism,” the ten Democrats and one independent said in a letter to Guatemala’s am- bassador to the United States. In their letter, the mem- bers of the US House of Representatives said “protesters were shot and killed by police when they fired live rounds to disperse a march of teachers and farmers near Huehu- etenango.”
President Berger has announced that the govern- ment would like to begin a dialogue process with protest- ing groups and indicated that he has asked Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada of the Catholic Church to act as a wit- ness to the peace process. Rights groups, like the MISCP, suggest that the call for dialogue is a ploy of the government to quite demonstrators since groups have been calling for a dialogue all along. This seems to be bol- stered by Berger’s comments a few days later: “I offered that we sit at the table and discuss but not with conditions because we are in country where the Right of the State must be respected as we decide to do it…If they don’t want [to talk], then the Law will be applied…Since we received a mandate when we won the elections, we are acting as the Right of the State.”
Sergio Morales announced that the Human Rights
Vol 17 No 7
Ombudsman’s Office has begun an investigation into the National Civil Police’s potential abuse of authority. Co- incidentally, the US has just approved that $3.2 million in aid to the Guatemalan military be resumed since its sus- pension in 1990 due to human rights abuses. (See “US Resumes MilitaryAid to Guatemala” below.)
JUSTICE AND RECONCILIATION
Reduced Sentences for Gerardi’s Murderers 3/22/05 -An appeals court reduced prison sentences by ten years against two former soldiers in the 1998 killing of Juan Gerardi, a human rights crusading Roman Catho- lic bishop.
In June 2001, a three-judge panel convicted re- tired Col. Byron Lima Estrada and his son, Capt. Byron Lima Oliva, in the killing of Gerardi, who was bludgeoned to death with a concrete block in the garage of his Guate- mala City seminary in April 1998. Lima Estrada and Lima Oliva were assigned co-responsibility in the killing and sentenced to thirty years behind bars, but lawyers suc- cessfully argued on appeal that more than one person cannot be convicted of a killing according to Guatemalan law.
Reclassified on March 22 as “accomplices” in the slaying, the two men received revised sentences of twenty years each from a three-judge panel. Lima Oliva pro- tested the revised sentence, arguing before reporters that his prosecution was motivated by politics. While pros- ecutors could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, Guatemala’s second-highest tribunal, they have decided not to. The judges upheld a twenty-year sentence against Rev. Mario Orantes, Gerardi’s assistant.
Sgt. Mario Obdulio Villanueva had also been convicted as having co-responsibility in Gerardi’s slaying and was sentenced to thirty years. He was killed, how- ever, when fights between inmates broke out during a prison riot in 2002.
Jose Toledo, attorney for Orantes, said with con- sideration for good conduct the men could be released within four years, having already served six years. The appeal had sought to free all three men or provide them new trials.
A day before the appeals court revised the sen- tences, posters that said “We were sold” and “We Limas are innocent” were posted in different part of Guatemala City. Youth were paid Q50 (approximately $6.25) a day
April 1, 2005