The town of Nacahuil sits only an hour from Guatemala City, yet it has been largely spared the high rates of violence that have plagued Guatemala’s capital in recent years. That all changed last Saturday. At around 11pm on September 7, unidentified men stalked through the town of about 7,500, gunning people down. When they finally fled in their stolen vehicle, 11 people were dead and at least a dozen were injured.
Relatives of those killed in the attack suspect police involvement in the crime. This is based on witness accounts that police arrived 20-30 minutes before the shooting, passing through the same part of town where most of the victims were killed. The owner of a local bar was among the dead and a relative alleges that the police demanded a bribe from the owner, which he refused to pay.
San José Nacahuil is the only indigenous community in the municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc. The population is made up of Maya Kaqchikel people. The town has a community police force and successfully maintained peace and security withoutoutside support. Residents expelled the national police six years ago, and local officials say that they have seen a reduction in crime since that time.
Interior Minister López Bonilla immediately blamed the attack on gangs and placed the community under the control of a special contingent of police and soldiers. Community authorities of San José Nacahuil, as well as other indigenous and grassroots organizations, have criticized Bonilla for attributing the crime to gangs without first undertaking an investigation, and they demanded that the police and military be removed from the community. Instead, the Interior Minister has asked President Pérez Molina to install a military detachment in the community.
Like many indigenous communities in Guatemala, the people of Nacahuil have suffered attempts to impose development projects without their consent. In response, many members of Nacahuil have participated in non-violent resistance movements, such as the ongoing peaceful road block at “La Puya” in the neighboring municipality of San José de Golfo to prevent the construction of the El Tambor gold mine.
In other struggles against mega-development projects in Guatemala, including the Escobal silver mine in San Rafael las Flores and the Canbalam hydroelectric dam in Santa Cruz Barillas, the government has used violent incidences as a pretext to declare a state of siege, which suspends constitutional rights. In both instances, the government then arrested resistance movement leaders. Anti-mining activists have expressed concern that the violent incident will be used by the government as an excuse to militarize the region or crack down on protesters.
Echoing Guatemalan organizations we call on the government to:
- Carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into Saturday’s deadly attack, especially into allegations of police involvement
- Respect the rights of the residents of Nacahuil and the surrounding region
- Refrain from using police or military forces to crack down on local social movements
- Withdraw police and military from the community, as requested by local residents.