May 15, 2012
By Brenna Goth
HUEHUETENANGO—Thousands of Guatemalans marched on May 15 to denounce the state of siege declared by the government last week on the town of Santa Cruz Barillas, a city in the department located near the Guatemalan-Mexican border.
¨Santa Cruz Barillas is suffering repression by the government of Pérez Molina," said Juan Juárez, 70, resident of Ixcán Playa Grande Quiché a community nearly 400 km away. ¨We worry because the government of Guatemala is defending the interests of the hydroelectric company more than Santa Cruz (Barillas).¨
Protesters called on Pérez Molina to lift the state of siege and raised concerns about human rights violations in the area. Many participants carried signs in Spanish with phrases such as, ¨The resistance isn’t delinquency and repression is not the answer.¨
The primarily-indigenous Santa Cruz Barillas has been at odds with the government due to hydroelectric plant set to be built in the area by Spanish company Hidro Santa Cruz. President Otto Pérez Molina declared the 30-day state of siege on May 3 after unrest following the death of a community leader who opposed the plant.
The march was organized by the Council of the Pueblos of the West and was attended by ancestral and community leaders from surrounding towns and organizations. Marchers presented formal complaints to the municipal government offices against the state of siege. President Molina attributed some of the violence to drug cartels and sent 200 troops to Barillas. The siege restricts public assembly and mandates that people stay inside past 6 p.m. More than 17 people have been arrested in the conflict.
Event organizers demanded respect for indigenous rights and freedom for those detained during the conflict while yelling out ¨We are all Barillas!¨ and ¨This land is ours!¨ Many saw the event as a chance to speak out against the repression of all indigenous people in Guatemala.
¨We want the government to respect the pueblo,¨ said Guatemala City resident Brenda Hernández, 47. Although she does not have personal connections in Barillas, she wants the government to respect the residents of the town.