The state of siege law gives the military new powers to arrest and interrogate suspects and prohibits organized protests in the targeted areas.
Guatemala’s Congress Saturday voted overwhelmingly to approve a temporary state of siege in six northeastern provinces, a measure designed to tighten security after several soldiers were killed by alleged drug traffickers.
The initiative passed after 88 lawmakers voted in favor while nine opposed it in the Central American country’s unicameral legislature.
The 30-day state of siege imposes a night-time curfew in the northeastern provinces of Alta Verapaz, El Progreso, Izabal, Peten, Zacapa, and Baja Verapaz, which together make up a drug-trafficking corridor that runs from Honduras to the Mexican border.
Most places under siege in eastern Guatemala are inhabited by Indigenous Maya Q'eqchi' communities which have faced massacres, and forced disappearances in the past.
"The magnitude allows them to militarise or remilitarise a region with a high level of conflict, where communities are opposed to extractive industry projects," said Iduvina Hernandez, director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy.
The state of siege law also gives the military new powers to arrest and interrogate suspects and prohibits organized protests in the targeted areas as well as some meetings, although it does not specify the number of people that can legally meet.
Outgoing President Jimmy Morales declared the state of siege last week, arguing it was needed to better target criminal groups operating in these areas.
The siege is imposed according to the 1965 Law of Public Order and the Constitution of 1985.
Before Morales’ declaration, Guatemala’s army said a group of suspected drug traffickers ambushed a patrol of nine soldiers who were sent to apprehend an aircraft allegedly transporting drugs. Three of the soldiers died in the attack, according to authorities.
The state of siege has been sharply criticized by local rights groups representing victims of violence as well as human rights activists in the area.
“It seems to us an exaggerated and loathsome action to take,” according to a statement by 100 social organizations published Saturday on social media.
The Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) organized a march Saturday against the siege but was stopped by police.
CUC coordinator Daniel Pascual said the government would use this latest measure to arrest local community leaders.