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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Guatemala Acquits Army Chief in Killings of 6 Indigenous People

A Guatemalan court on Wednesday acquitted an army colonel over the death of six indigenous people during the eviction of a blocked road in 2012, but convicted seven other soldiers of lesser crimes, in a ruling received with signs of sadness by victims’ relatives.

Colonel Juan Chiroy and a soldier were acquitted of the charge of “extrajudicial execution,” while a sergeant and six other soldiers were sentenced to seven years and 10 months in prison for “injury in brawl” or “firearm discharge,” according to the ruling by the court presided over by Judge María Eugenia Castellanos.

The events occurred during the eviction of a blocked road on October 4, 2012, in a case known as the “Alaska Summit Massacre,” which indigenous leaders describe as the first massacre perpetrated by security forces after the end of the civil war (1960-1996).

“There was a lack of comprehensive analysis of the case and also a misinterpretation of the crime of extrajudicial execution. As complaining plaintiffs we emphasized that this crime has several assumptions, one of which occurs when there is arbitrariness in the activity of the security forces or excess in the use of force,” Lucía Xiloj, said a lawyer for the victims’ families.

“We are analyzing with the victims [whether to appeal], surely yes, but it is a decision they are going to make,” she added.

Dozens of relatives of the victims and other indigenous people attended the reading of the ruling and left with signs of sadness from the court, an AFP journalist observed. Relatives of the accused also attended, including the colonel’s wife, who hugged and kissed her husband after the ruling.

Six Maya K’iche’ men died in this event that occurred under the government of the then right-wing president Otto Pérez (2012-2015), sentenced in 2022 to 16 years in prison for corruption. More than 30 people were also injured, but the military was only tried for injuring 14 people.

The event occurred at the site known as Alaska Summit because of the altitude and cold weather in that stretch of the route between the departments of Totonicapán and Sololá, about 100 km west of the capital.

“My petition is for you to acquit me […], because what I saw in this hearing is that you cannot prove that I committed a crime,” soldier Abraham Gua, who was finally convicted of “firearm discharge,” told the court.

The nine soldiers remained under house arrest and prohibited from leaving the country, but Colonel Chiroy and Soldier Manuel Lima were released after the ruling. Before the hearing, about 50 indigenous people held a brief Mayan ceremony, with flowers and lit candles, outside the courthouses.

They spilled a lot of blood

The trial began on June 15 last year in a high-impact case court in the capital, after almost 11 years of waiting due to appeals that delayed the process.

The nine soldiers faced charges of “extrajudicial execution” and “attempted extrajudicial execution” (for the injured) and were at risk of sentences between 20 and 50 years in prison.

“I cannot erase from my heart all that has happened […], because they came to massacre my husband, they spilled a lot of blood,” said María Yax, 45, dressed in her colorful regional costume, who hoped the nine soldiers would be convicted.

Yax’s husband, José Puac, was a 33-year-old shoemaker who along with thousands of locals was protesting the increase in electricity rates and other demands. The other five fatalities are Jesús Puac, Félix Sapón, Santos Hernández, Rafael Batz and Jesús Caxaj.

More than 90 witnesses testified at the trial, mostly locals, around 300 documents were presented and there were almost 30 forensic expert reports.

Divine justice

“It changed my life, I could no longer continue my business, my work [making textiles]. They have to make reparations for this damage they did to us,” said Enrique García, 52, who now uses a wheelchair after losing his right leg from a gunshot wound, before the court handed down the sentence.

“If there is no justice there is divine justice and they have to pay,” added García, stating that “before God they have bloodstained hands because they killed our colleagues.”

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