As we were settling down to a drink in the bar last night a disturbing message came over the radio. A group of indigenous people were reported to have taken over the police station in Livingston and were holding 15 policemen hostage. Raoul (the cruisers helper there) advised that all offices were closed, there could be no checking in or out of the Rio for a few days.
As we were assimilating this piece of information we heard that the police station in Fronteras had been similarly attacked and more police taken hostage, bringing the total to 32. A group of locals had been seen crossing the bridge on their way to the police HQ wielding machetes and stakes... It was reported that the police station had been burned and police vehicles destroyed.
The hostages had been taken to the village of El Cedro were they were being held captive.
It would appear that the leader of this village, Ramiro Choc, was arrested last Thursday (14th February) on charges of aggravated robbery, theft of property and illegal detention of a property.It is reported that he was traveling to Guatemala City to visit a sick child. Choc is being held in jail The Jocotes, in Zacapa, about 100 kilometres from the scene of the incidents.
Back in 1998 Amnesty International said that:
Amnesty International is seriously concerned for the safety of the peasant population of Livingston municipality in light of recent armed attacks and threats made against them. There are fears that similar incidents could occur in the area in the near future
Amnesty International made this statement:
Amnesty International believes that the attack on Ramiro Choc was related to his legitimate activities as a human rights and land activist, and that the landowner and his supporters acted with the complicity or acquiescence of the local authorities.
It would appear that despite the recent change in government here in Guatemala some issues are far from being over. It is said that the charges against Choc have been made by the owner of a property that he claims should have been returned to the indigenous peoples under the terms of the peace agreement signed at the end of the Civil war in 1996.
One can certainly see that the property here on the Rio Dulce has become a valuable commodity. the influx of foreigners and rich Guatemalans from the city is pushing up prices and of course where there is money to be made there will also be shady dealings.
Last night the Agrarian Platform (PA) said that the arrests and reprisals against peasant leaders who demand the regularization of the land they inhabit are clear examples of the beginning of a mismanagement of the government.
One of the most representative cases is that of Ramiro Choc, quekchí leader, who was arrested last Thursday in Zacapa by the National Civil Police accusing him of the charges of aggravated robbery, aggravated theft and remarks that in the opinion of the PA are a clear demonstration of state repression.
According to Isabel Solis, peasant leader in the region, the Ministry of Rural Affairs had acted in conjunction with the alleged owner of the farm Buena Vista, where Choc lived and was subsequently arrested.
The peasant organizations argue that the case could have been resolved at the table of dialogue that operates in the region and which occasionally deals with the issues of agrarian unrest.
Solis alongside PA demanding the freedom of all Choc and peasant leaders have been arrested with legal arguments but not targets, in addition to intervention by the Ministry of Rural Affairs for the resolution of conflicts and not to exacerbate them. "
"The government of Berger was characterized by defending the interests of farmers through the State entities, we hope that these problems will not mark the policies that will be implemented over the next four years of government," said Solis.
Cruisers have reported this morning that all is quiet in the area downriver. Businesses are open in Livingston it is being reported.
Please excuse some of the translation from Spanish to English, I have done my best!