Officials now say at least 29 individuals were killed on a coconut ranch in the Northern Guatemalan province of Peten, their bound, decapitated, and tortured bodies discovered early Sunday. AP calls the mass killings “one of the worst massacres” since the country’s nearly four-decade long civil war came to an end in 1996. Similar comments from police spokesman Donald Gonzalez who referred to the murders Sunday as the “worst massacre we have seen in modern times.”
The LA Times says the killings were carried out by a “small army” of some 200 gunmen who, according to witnesses, arrived at the ranch on buses but have otherwise been unidentified.
The victims all appear to have been laborers on the Peten ranch where they were found. Police are investigating whether or not the mass killings are connected to the Saturday death of Haroldo Leon, the brother of late Guatemalan drug boss Juan Jose “Juancho” Leon, himself killed in 2008. The Zetas, have long been suspected of being involved in the latter’s murder, which is said to have allowed the Mexican drug gang to gain control over transshipment routes in neighboring Alta Verapaz.
Officials found one wounded survivor of the massacre – an individual who says he evaded murder by pretending to have been killed. No details have yet been released about what specifically that individual is said to have witnessed.
More Spanish-language coverage from Guatemala’s El Periódico, highlighting the suspected relationship between Sunday’s massacre and the recent killing of Heraldo León.
This weekend’s bullet points:
· In Port-au-Prince Saturday, former pop singer Michel Martelly was sworn in as Haiti’s next president. AP reports while the Miami Herald looks at the various challenges the new president faces. The outgoing head of Minustah, Edmond Mulet says Martelly inherits a “failed state,” adding that in the coming days Martelly is likely to discover that “the state institutions, ministries, government agencies that should implement the vision and plans of the new government cannot deliver.” On Sunday, those close to the new president said the first major personnel announcement would be nominating businessman Daniel-Gerard Rouzier as the country’s next prime minister. Haiti’s parliament must approve the nomination. The prime minister will also serve (with UN special envoy Bill Clinton) as co-chair of Haiti's Interim Recovery Commission.
· Mexican immigration officials said Sunday they are prepared to subject migration agents to psychological, drug, and lie detector tests as part of a new effort to combat corruption in the country’s National Immigration Institute (INM). At a press conference Sunday, National Immigration Institute Commissioner Salvador Beltran del Rio said 40 agents are currently being investigated for a variety of abuses – this after the dismissal of seven regional immigration directors late last week. AP reports.
· The number of bodies at a mass grave site in the northern Mexico state of Durango jumped again over the weekend to 218, making it the largest such grave to have been discovered thus far in the country, according to AP.
· In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, AP says violence “motivated by an electoral dispute between indigenous communities” has left at least eight dead. The incident occurred near the town of Santiago Choapan.
· The New York Times profiles Mexican poet and anti-drug war organizer Javier Sicilia. According to the Times, Sicilia has “achieved what others have failed to do” in provoking “serial public responses from the Calderón administration” about the government’s prosecution of the drug wars. Calderón met with Sicilia privately one week ago, the Times reports. According to Sicilia, the Mexican president admitted in the meeting that he had “made a mistake” while adding “I can’t go back now.” Meanwhile, CNN reports that Sicilia and others are now in the process of planning a follow-up demonstration to last week’s anti-drug war march from Cuernavaca to DF. The demonstration is set for June 10 in Ciudad Juarez. The plans come as the Calderon government announced Thursday it would be sending hundreds of new troops to the border state of Tamaulipas in the coming days.
· Major protests against a planned hydroelectric dam in Southern Chile brought some 30,000 demonstrators to the streets of the Chilean capital of Santiago over the weekend. BBC Mundo reports that as many as 70 individuals were arrested during the demonstrations. A new poll shows that nearly ¾ of Chileans oppose the dam project.
· AP reports that a new effort to declassify US intelligence documents related to Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship has failed in the US House. An amendment re-proposed by New York Democratic congressman Maurice Hinchey, calling for the U.S. intelligence agencies to declassify all of their files on Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship, was rejected in a 214-194 vote Friday. A similar bill proposed by Hinchey in 1999 aided in the release of similar intelligence files on the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, the wire reports.
· In Uruguay, the left-leaning Frente Amplio coalition decided during a party plenary Saturday that it would go ahead with a contentious parliamentary vote later this week about whether or not to annul the country’s 1986 amnesty law. The so-called “Ley de Caducidad” continues to protect human rights violators from prosecution for abuses committed during the country’s 1973-1985 dictatorship. Notably, the decision to hold the vote was opposed by the country’s President, José Mujica, vice president Danilo Astori, and former FA president Tabaré Vázquez, all of whom fear the issue could cause irreparable divisions in the coalition. Uruguay’s two opposition parties have long opposed annulling the law. Mercopress reports in English; Uruguay’s El País in Spanish.
· Amnesty International released its 2011 annual report last week. The Americas section can be linked to here.
· In Ecuador, it looks increasingly like all ten of the referendum questions voted on last week and supported by President Rafael Correa will be approved. Current vote tallies available here as vote totaling continues.
· Two new polls from Ipsos and CPI in Peru show Keiko Fujimori continuing to extend her slim lead over Ollanta Humala before a June 5 runoff. The former has Fujimori obtaining 51.1% against Humala’s 48.9% while the latter poll shows Fujimori at 52.9% compared to Humala’s 47.1%. AP also reports on the most recent addition to Ms. Fujimori’s campaign team: former NYC mayor and one-time Republican presidential contender, Rudy Giuliani. The wire says Fujimori announced over the weekend that Giuliani was advising the campaign on citizen security issues and would be coming to Peru briefly sometime over the next few days.
· Finally, the New York Times front-page report Sunday on Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s new mercenary army in the United Arab Emirates has Latin American implications. According to the Times, an unspecified number of Colombians are among the 800 or so mercenaries who have been trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion employed by Prince’s new company, “Reflex Responses,” or “R2.” More on the Colombia-specifics from Colombia Reports. For other articles in recent years on itinerant guns-for-hire from Colombia, see the AP and CNN on Colombian mercenaries appearing in post-coup Honduras, as well as US-trained Colombian military and police officials working for Blackwater in Iraq, as reported by the LA Times and Mother Jones in 2005 and 2008, respectively.