Massacre and State of Exception in San Juan Sacatepéquez, Guatemala

Dispossession by Terror

Translation provided by The Media Co-op

The International Committee in Solidarity with San Juan Sacatepéquez has prepared this document to explain what is currently taking place in Guatemala. Men and women of 12 Kaqchikel communities have been organizing for more than 10 years in struggle against the dispossession that would be imposed by the construction of the San Gabriel cement plant (owned by Cementos Progreso), and against the construction of a ring road that would serve as a highway for the extractive needs of the cement company.

On Monday, September 22nd 2014, journalist Norma Sancir was released; she had been detained for covering the eviction of Chorti communities at Puente de Jupilingo, Camotán, Chiquimula on Thursday September 18th. Her liberation was the result of the efforts of thousands of men and women who protested via various means: by sending letters, making demands at embassies, writing columns in newspapers, through the efforts of committed lawyers, and thanks to the help of hundreds of people who reject and who protest against the infamy the government of Guatemala is committing against human rights. The first judge in Chiquimula had no choice but to rule in favor of Sancir, freeing her. It was a collective victory.

That same day it was rumored that there were preparations underway to declare a state of exception in the municipality of San Juan Sacatepéquez. Faced with these rumors, members of the communities began to denounce the situation and began a campaign to seek support and solidarity. With information from Prensa Comunitaria we learned that what was decreed was the State of Prevention #6-2014 (a state of exception under another name).

When we reviewed the legal criteria for declaring a state of exception, according to the Law of Public Order and Articles 139 and 151 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, in order to establish a state of exception and suspend constitutional guarantees, there requires notification 48 hours beforehand, published in the official newspaper and the newspapers with the highest circulation. What happened was the opposite, as on Monday September 22nd at 6am the army was already in the villages of San Juan, the declaration was only published afterwards.

In a statement by the Minister of Government, which was broadcast in the media, it was said that the imposition of this measure was an attempt to resolve and guarantee security following the massacre of nine people in the village of Pajoques, which is part of San Juan Sacatepéquez. The question we need answered is: Why did they establish a state of exception, violating norms and procedures in such an accelerated way?

What we know:

1. We learned about the massacre via Guatemalan print media, it was reported that nine people were killed in the community of Pajoques. The media reported that the massacre took place as the result of a clash between neighbors. The argument was the following: some community members had sold their land for the construction of the so called ring road, which is a highway that serves as an access road for the San Gabriel cement plant. It is said that there is a division between the communities related to the decision to sell or not to sell land for the construction of the ring road, and that that situation led to a dispute among community members which led them to massacre each other. The following was reported in El Periodico on Tuesday, September 23: “A group of locals surrounded the house [of Marcelo Pajoc Max, who supposedly works for the cement company] on Friday night and he later shot at them, killing two. Later, they entered his house and killed him and five of his family members.”

The state of exception will last 15 days and the objective is to provide security and protect the property of locals, according to the Minister of Government. He stated that they are looking for the people responsible for the massacre and for a paramilitary group that is intimidating people into not selling their land. Contrary to this version, locals state that these allegations are false, and that the people from the cement company are falsifying titles or making double titles, this is how they are pressuring people to sell their land.

Images from photographs with bloodied women and men remind us of the images we saw time and again during the time of the Guatemalan civil war, when the army cut up the bodies of women and men, when they would rob peoples’ homes and burn them down. If we look over the books (of REMHI) of testimonies of people who narrate how the soldiers made villages disappear, we can see the same patterns emerging. That leads us to conclude the following: those who were in charge of this massacre were trained to produce death in the same way as Guatemalan soldiers.

What do community members say? They say it was those in favor of the company who killed their neighbors, that is clear in the words of one resident of the community who didn’t want to give his name for security reasons. He said: “We are peaceful people, we are not armed. We took the people who were shot to the hospital, but they died, we heard the shooting and saw the vehicles burning, we called the police, called them so they would intervene but they never arrived, we spent all the credit we had on our phones, we called 110 [trans: 911] and they said they would be there soon but they never arrived. Those who carried out the massacre are people paid by the company.”

The dead are our friends and comrades who are part of the struggle against the cement plant and who leave orphaned children.

2. When the army arrived illegally to San Juan Sacatepéquez on Monday September 22 at 6am, members of the communities met on the soccer field and were able to organize for a negotiation with the police and soldiers. Community members asked them not to destroy houses, or break windows, that they would leave the women and children alone, and in exchange [the community members] would allow [the army and police] to investigate and inform the communities about the motives of the massacre. The representative of the army signed a collective document, but in practice the testimonies of the community members demonstrate that in practice the soldiers didn’t keep their word and entered and damaged peoples’ homes.

The testimonies of the women and men from the communities of San Juan affirm that the state of exception has benefitted the San Gabriel cement plant:

a) As the army searches houses and prepares arrest warrants, work at the cement plant has re-started. According to one woman, “They have started building the highway for the regional ring [road].” They also say: “The Minister of Government is taking advantage of this situation to repress the communities with the intention of shutting them up, because community leaders are not terrorists as they have called us, we are defenders of human rights and we are demanding respect for our rights… but we can tell that this fellow is favoring the cement company.”

b)  Tomás Pajoj Xolix, 25 years old, Jesús Pajoj Xolix, 31, Rafael Santos Pajoc Xolix, and José Dolores Pajoc Pirir have been arrested and are in jail in Mixco, they are accused of being directly responsible for the massacre. One of those captured, José Pajoc, is the father of one of the dead young men and of two others who were injured. He went from the hospital to the morgue and now he’s in jail.

c) They are demanding and obliging boys and girls to give the names of community authorities. “They are intimidating and obliging children to give the names of community leaders.”

It appears like a puzzle that has been planned so it can’t be solved. But what the communities see clearly is that:

A) The massacre took place and took various lives. The objective of this violent event was to impose a state of exception (with the name of state of prevention), in order to continue building the regional ring [road], which is strategically crucial for the San Gabriel cement project.

B) The arrest warrants that are being written are against community leaders because the objective is to disarticulate community organization.

C) In the state of exception, the communities do not feel protected, on the contrary, they fear for their safety and their lives, because the history of the army is one of repression.

International Committee in Solidarity with San Juan Sacatepéquez