PBI-Guatemala accompanies Alaska Summit Massacre trial of soldiers who killed six Mayan K’iche’ men

Published by Brent Patterson on

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PBI-Guatemala has posted: “An hour after the reading of the sentence on Caso de la Masacre de la Cumbre de Alaska the room was filled with the plaintiffs, relatives and authorities of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán and the Ixil people.”

Reuters reports:

“A Guatemalan court on Wednesday [February 28] convicted seven soldiers for their roles in the killing of six Indigenous protesters in 2012, while a colonel and another soldier were acquitted. Of those convicted, six of the soldiers were found guilty of bodily injury caused in a fight while another was convicted of murder. They were sentenced to nearly eight years in prison while the soldier found guilty of murder was sentenced to more than nine.”

Agence France-Presse reported earlier in the week:

A Guatemalan court will hand down the verdict Wednesday [February 28] in the trial of nine military officers accused of killing six indigenous people during the eviction of a blocked road on Oct. 4, 2012, in a case known as the ‘Alaska Summit Massacre’.

Colonel Juan Chiroy, Sergeant Edin Agustín and seven soldiers are accused of having shot at demonstrators who were blocking the Inter-American Highway in protest of the increase in the electricity rate and other social demands.

Six men of the Mayan K’iche’ ethnic group died in this event that occurred under the government of then-right-wing President Otto Pérez (2012-2015), sentenced in 2022 to 16 years in prison for corruption, in what indigenous leaders describe as the first massacre perpetrated by security forces after the end of the civil war (1960-1996).

‘I ask for justice and reparation because the soldiers killed our husbands’, Celestina Aguilar, 50, the widow of one of the six dead, told AFP.

Video: “Celestina Aguilar Soc, widow of Francisco Puac Ordóñez, points out that the death of her husband changed their lives.”

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

Before the hearing, about 50 indigenous people performed a brief Mayan ceremony, with flowers and lit candles, outside the courthouse.

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

The nine soldiers face charges of ‘extrajudicial execution’ and ‘attempted extrajudicial execution’ (for the wounded) and face sentences of between 20 and 50 years in prison.

[Those killed included] Jose Puac, a 33-year-old-shoemaker, Félix Sapón, Santos Hernández, Rafael Batz and Jesús Caxaj.

Photo: Santos Hernández Menchú.

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

The defense of the victims is seeking that the court also order reparation measures and prohibit the military from repressing demonstrations.

The Spanish news agency EFE also reported:

’I want justice, my life will never be the same. They left us alone,’ Enrique Faustino Garcia, 54, who lost a leg to a gunshot by the armed forces when he was with a group of peasants protesting on a highway against the increase in the price of electricity in the western department of Totonicapán, told EFE.

Prior to the hearing where the future of the accused will be decided, dozens of family members went to the Plaza de los Derechos Humanos, in the Supreme Court of Justice, to make a Mayan invocation and with prayers asking for justice.

Among the accused soldiers is Colonel Juan Chiroy Sal, who is accused by the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) of being in charge of the military contingent that acted that day.

Sgt. Edin Agustin and seven other lower-ranking soldiers are also among those who could face prison sentences of more than 50 years.

Canada and Otto Pérez Molina

As noted above by Agence France-Presse, the Alaska Summit Massacre occurred under the government of President Otto Pérez (2012-2015).

In this feature article, The Walrus magazine has reported: “According to geographers Catherine Nolin and Jacqui Stephens, who studied the work of Canadian mining companies in Guatemala from 2004 to 2008, Canada’s ‘pro-business, pro-mining stance, through its embassy’s activities’, have shaped Guatemala’s development model and, in turn, have helped plunder the resources of Indigenous and local communities.”

“Documents received through Access to Information requests show that the embassy was active in creating a favourable environment for the operation of Canadian companies. This included forming ties with Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala’s president from January 2012 to September 2015.”

That article adds: “According to the National Security Archive, Pérez Molina was allegedly involved in ‘scorched earth campaigns’, which annihilated entire Indigenous villages during the country’s civil war.”

In 2007, Democracy Now reported on allegations that Pérez Molina may have been involved in the assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi in April 1998 just days after the release of a human rights report he helped prepare for the United Nations’ Historical Clarification Commission.

To listen to a Democracy Now interview with Peace Brigades International following the murder of Bishop Gerardi, please click here.

Global Affairs Canada photo and text: “October 11, 2012 – Guatemala City – The Honourable Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), and Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina, met in Guatemala City today. They discussed  security and justice reform issues, as well as opportunities for expanding commercial engagements between Canada and Guatemala. Minister Ablonczy reinforced Canada’s support for stability and democracy in the region. Minister Ablonczy attended President Perez’s inauguration in January 2012.”

On December 7, 2022, a Guatemalan court sentenced Perez to 16 years in prison. He was found guilty of leading a massive customs fraud scheme while in office.

We continue to closely follow the situation in Guatemala.

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