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As over 10,000 peaceful marchers gathered in Guatemala City's central plaza, soldiers stationed on the tops of the surrounding buildings pointed their machine guns down at the crowd. Police on the ground penned in men, women and children, leaving them nowhere to flee. The marchers had walked for nine days to meet with their elected leaders and ask for an end to the violent evictions terrorizing their communities and for the passage of a law to promote true rural development to alleviate the crushing poverty suffered by the majority of Guatemalans.
In their arms they carried only their children and in their hearts they carried a conviction that another Guatemala is possible. Yet they were met with military force in a scene horrifyingly similar to that in which their family members were gunned down by Guatemalan soldiers in the Panzós Massacre of 1978.
Today, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee released it's draft Appropriations Bill, and it does not include the ban on funding to the Guatemalan army which has been in place for three decades. The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to release it's draft Appropriations Bill any day, at which time members of the House and Senate will come together to create a final, compromise bill. Please, contact your Representatives and Senators and ask them to make sure the ban is in place in the final bill.
The government of Otto Pérez Molina claims that U.S. aid to the Guatemalan military is necessary to combat the narco-trafficking and violent crime wracking the country, but the truth is that the military is being used to intimidate and silence the Guatemalan people. Army bases are being opened not in regions where drugs are trafficked, but where indigenous communities dare to stand up to large corporations taking over their land. In addition, the Guatemalan military funds organizations such as the Association of Military Veterans (AVEMILGUA) which threaten and intimidate human rights defenders and those trying to push forward cases of grave human rights violations, such as genocide, in the Guatemalan justice system.
There are alternatives to military solutions to fight crime and violence! Instead of further funding to the military, the U.S. should support efforts to strengthen institutions such as the police and the courts, and to arrest and prosecute members of clandestine criminal networks. Committing to continue our financial support of the UN-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a great place to start.