During the annual June 30th observance of Guatemalan Armed Forces Day, thousands of people marched in San Juan Sacatepéquez from their rural communities to the central square in rejection to the newly assigned military brigade in the municipality. Locals were joined by solidarity groups from throughout the country in support for their resistance against the militarization of their territory and the grave social conflicts created by the cement-mining license approved in 2007 for the powerful Guatemalan Cementos Progreso company. Despite holding a local plebiscite in 2007 where 8,936 residents rejected the project and only 4 approved it, the government has continued to favor the powerful Novella Family-owned mining project. (1)
Cruz Blanca: We want teachers, not soldiers. “Since October 2007, residents of San Juan Sacatepéquez have faced off in numerous occasions against Guatemalan Security Forces. These conflicts have arisen due to the imposition of the Novella family who are adamant about installing a Cementos Progreso cement quarry mine in the region. The project will negatively affect the livelihood of 12 Kakchiquel Mayan communities surrounding the San José Ocaña landholding.” (2)
María del Transito Pirir, 64, from the community of Cruz Blanca, holds a banner with an image of the Assumption of Mary on the front and a handwritten sign on the back that reads: Otto Pérez, we want Peace. Mrs. Pirir states she has joined the resistance in order to “defend our community from the soldiers who have entered without permission!”
Cruz Blanca says: No to the Army! “The President of the republic, General Otto Pérez Molina, who was present for the Armed Forces Day commemorative acts at the Mariscal Zavala Base in Guatemala City, stated: “this new brigade [in San Juan Sacatepéquez] has been assigned at the request of the local citizens.” (3)
Mauricio Turuy, from the Kaqchikel Communities Association, assures local citizens insist on carrying out a local plebiscite to see how the population truly feels about the permanent arrival of the military brigade in their community. “We believe the brigade is unnecessary in this municipality, we have not requested it.” He also states locals have asked the office of the President for a copy of the so-called request by the community members for the brigade, yet have not received any answer. Meanwhile, Encarnación Meléndez from the mayor’s office in San Juan Sacatepéquez also confirms that neither the mayor’s office no the civil society have asked for the presence of the military personnel. (4)
And no to the intimidation of our children. Local community members have confirmed that, in recent weeks, soldiers have entered schools at will to carry out piñata events and hand out drawings of soldiers for the children to color. Residents of San Juan Sacatepéquez interpret these actions as a clear intimidation and a sign of militarization in the region.
From left to right: Pedro Boc Subiu, Tomás Cipriano and Pedro Vicente, auxiliary mayors from Cruz Blanca community, walk towards the central park along with fellow residents. The twelve communities that form the core of the resistance in San Juan Sacatepéquez are: Santa Fe Ocaña, Pilar I, Pilar II, Trojes I, Trojes II, Lo de Ramos, Cruz Blanca, Cruz de Ayapán, Pajoques, Guamuch, Loma Alta y Asunción Chivoc. The total population from these communities nears 10,000 people.
Due to numerous security issues, unresolved murders, disappearances, and general social conflicts that have arisen since the cement-mining project was announced in 2007, locals have organized themselves in neighborhood watch patrols. Even though these groups who patrol the streets in balaclavas apply their own interpretation of laws, and on other communities have grown out of control and even turned oppressive, local community members do prefer them to soldiers. The sign reads: Maximum speed is 22 km/hr. Plate numbers will be written down. Cruz Blanca, a safe community! Organized Neighbors.
During the official act that mobilized the new military brigades in Petén and San Juan Sacatepéquez, President Otto Pérez Molina stated: “Today, two new military brigades are being inaugurated in order to expand and consolidate the nation’s power in those regions that have been overwhelmed by the multinational threats we are currently facing.” (5)
We want to live in peace and tranquility, working out our own model of development. “Rafael González, historical member of the Committee for Peasant Union (CUC), stated that with the new military base, ‘the Government hopes to intimidate the population that opposes the cement mine and continues to protect the interests of business owners.’” (6)
We want pencils, not weapons.
We want Schools, not military brigades.
Government and Army, murdering pirates! I don’t have an identity crisis. I am San Juan Sacatepéquez, San José del Golfo, Barillas, Normalista, 132 and all the martyrs of the people.
Members of H.I.J.O.S. Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia participated in this year’s counter-march to the military parade, aptly named Flowers of Resistance.
The 12 communities more united than ever against the military brigade.
We do not want a return to the 80s.
No to the Military Brigade. We ask for the respect of the municipality’s autonomy. The Market, Present (in the struggle).
We do not need soldiers, we need teachers. We do not need bombs, we need notebooks.
San Juan Sacatepéquez is widely recognized as a municipality where a large percentage of its population makes a living from growing and selling flowers.
Along the San Juan Sacatepéquez – Guatemala City highway, numerous homemade and modified signs and billboards announce the community patrols. Organized Neighbors. Watching over our security.
Versión en español aquí.
1 Coordinación y Convergencia Nacional Maya Waq’ib Kej. “EL ESTADO DE PREVENCIÓN EN SAN JUAN SACATEPEQUEZ ES UN ABUSO DE PODER CONTRA LOS PUEBLOS INDÍGENAS”. Ixim Ulew, June 2008.
3 Tercero, Domingo. “Seis mil personas rechazan la instalación de una brigada militar” Siglo XXI. June 30, 2012.
4 Barreto, Bill. “Vecinos rechazan brigada militar” Prensa Libre. June 30, 2012.