Notes from Guatemala and Colombia

On March 12 Guatemalan President Oscar Berger took Bush to the Mayan sacred site Iximche. Hundreds of indigenous people carried out a vigil for 24 hours in nearby Tecpan that a leader described as “an act of resistance in defense of our sovereignty and motherland.” Afterwards they went to Iximche to ritually clean places Bush had visited.

Guatemalan church leader Alvaro Ramazini denounced Bush’s visit, noting it coincided with an increase in the persecution and deportation of Guatemalans in the U.S. Hundreds of demonstrators, convened by the General Workers Union, rallied in Guatemala City to protest the visit.

Bush visited Colombia for just six hours on March 11. The government of President Alvaro Uribe had massed 21,000 soldiers and police in Bogota, closed the international airport, closed two highways, banned motorcycles and liquor sales, and banned transport of gas cylinders, “debris” and weapons. Ten helicopters were overhead for a day, and two universities were closed.

Demonstrations broke out in cities throughout Colombia. Hundreds of students, unionists and other protesters were dispersed with water cannons and tear gas and chased through Bogota streets. The police jailed 140 adult demonstrators and 40 “minors.”

The Bush visit came at a time when the Uribe government is in crisis. Scandal has mounted over the government’s ties with drug kingpins and paramilitaries.

Colombia’s wealthy complain of the high cost of fighting insurgents and slow progress in freeing high-ranking prisoners held by the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC. And the U.S. Congress has held off deciding to pay for anti-insurgency military operations; $612 million are due for 2008.

— W.T. Whitney Jr.