Photo: Guatemalans mourning the deaths
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina acknowledged Friday that army troops fired their weapons during a confrontation with protesters in the western province of Totonicapan, an incident resulting in the deaths of six peasants.
“In the preliminary investigation that the Defense Ministry carried out, there are seven soldiers who accepted that they went there as security and, on seeing themselves threatened, feared for their safety and began to fire into the air,” Perez Molina said in a press conference at a brigade headquarters in the capital.
Hundreds of people mobilized early Thursday to block the Interamerican highway at six different points in Totonicapan province.
The protest was spurred by proposed constitutional changes, an overhaul of the curriculum for aspiring teachers and a recent hike in electric rates.
Two truckloads of army troops were sent to the spot known as Alaska to assist police trying to clear the highway.
The violence began, Perez Molina said, when a private security guard traveling on a cargo truck fired his gun in an attempt to clear a path through the crowd.
The two army trucks happened to be directly behind the cargo truck. While most of the troops weren’t carrying guns, 11 soldiers had combat rifles.
Seven of the 11 armed troops fired into the air to disperse the protesters, who, according to the president “tried to lynch” the soldiers.
The private security guard and the seven soldiers who fired their weapons have been placed at the disposition of prosecutors, but the troops will remain with the army pending the completion of the investigation, Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto said.
Eight soldiers who were injured in Thursday’s episode were presented to reporters at the press conference.
A total of 36 protesters were shot, while four others were injured by tear gas.
Perez Molina - a retired army general - and his administration initially insisted that the soldiers at the scene did not fire their weapons, despite widely circulated images of a soldier with his rifle raised and pointed at the protesters.