Guatemalan President Otto Pérez stated on May 2 that drug traffickers were behind the disturbances in an indigenous town on the border with Mexico on May 1, which forced the government to decree a state of emergency for 30 days.
“There are situations that I’m not willing to allow, and for that reason, a state of emergency is being ordered. I’m asking for the cooperation of the Interior Ministry and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to execute the arrest warrants issued for those responsible for aggression against the authorities,” the president said at a press conference.
Pérez said that he was not ruling out the possibility that the disturbances may have been provoked by groups dedicated to organized crime, especially drug trafficking, with the aim of encouraging calls for the Army to leave the town or involving Military personnel in incidents with civilians.
On the evening of May 1, the president decreed a state of emergency in the indigenous town of Santa Cruz Barillas (Huehuetenango), around 415 kilometers northwest of the capital, on the border with Mexico, following violent disturbances.
The origin of the incidents was the death of an indigenous man, allegedly at the hands of private security personnel for a firm building a hydroelectric plant in that community.
A crowd of at least 300 inhabitants caused property damage and attacked soldiers at the Military garrison, from which four rifles were stolen, three of which have already been recovered, according to Army spokesperson Rony Urizar.
Pérez urged the authorities to execute at least 21 arrest warrants issued for those alleged to be responsible for provoking the disturbances.
The authorities resumed control of the city on May 2, while around 450 police officers and 500 soldiers were dispatched to reinforce security.
Under the state of emergency, several constitutional guarantees are suspended, such as the right to carry firearms and the right of assembly, and anyone suspected of conspiring against the state can be arrested without a warrant, according to the Public Order Act.
This is the first time that the president has resorted to this measure since taking office on January 14, but his predecessor Álvaro Colom (2008-2012) used it on several occasions.