October 4 marks six years since the 'Alaska Massacre' in Guatemala, in which the military opened fire on peaceful Indigenous demonstrators, killing six.
It was the first killing by security forces since the signing of the peace accords in 1996. To date, no one has been convicted of the murders.
On October 4, 2012, about 3,000 people from Totonicapan, mostly Indigenous Mayan K’iche, blocked a segment of the Inter-American Highway known as the ‘Summit of Alaska’ (kilometer 169) in protest against increasing electricity tariffs and constitutional reforms.
Witnesses say a private security guard from a truck stuck at the blockade opened fire on the demonstrators, killing Santos Hernandez Menchu. What followed is still unclear.
The initial shooting triggered a reaction from the army. Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said the security forces didn’t carry weapons, but his claim was disproved by photographs taken at the scene.
Officials then claimed the soldiers acted out of fear and fired in the air, but victims know otherwise. More than 50 people were injured and six killed, including Hernandez, Jose Eusebio Puac Baquiax, Arturo Felix Sapon Yax, Jesus Baltazar Caxaj Puac, Jesus Francisco Puac Ordoñez and Rafael Nicolas Batz. One of the injured died days later.
“We were protesting peacefully when soldiers arrived and started shooting at us without mercy,” said Pedro Sapon, a relative of one of the victims. “We’re only demanding our rights.”
The shooting triggered a response from demonstrators, who threw rocks at the military and torched an army truck. More protests erupted in the following days.
“Totonicapan: sixth anniversary of the #AlaskaMassacre during the government of Otto Perez Molina. They demand justice for the martyrs and their widows, relatives and the K’iche people.”
After the events, Colonel Juan Chiroy Sal and soldiers Dimas Garcia Perez, Marcos Chun Sacul, Abner Cruz Perez, Abraham Gua Cojoc, Felipe Chub Coc, Ana Rosa Cervantes Aguilar, Edin Adolfo Agustin Vasquez and Manuel Lima Vasquez were accused of extrajudicial killing and placed in pre-trial detention.
In February 2013, the court ruled “the State of Guatemala” was ultimately responsible for the killings, but judge Carol Patricia Flores changed the soldiers’ charges to homicide in a dangerous context and the colonel’s to failing to fulfill duties, as his troop wasn’t supposed to approach the scene of the protests.
The move was seen as an act of corruption by the plaintiffs, who fought a legal battle until the original charges were reinstated in 2018.
Also, in 2014 President Otto Perez Molina’s administration handed US$520,000 to the relatives of the victims in an attempt to stop any legal process, but failed as the communities considered the gesture insufficient.