Critics say the government’s siege is about persecuting activists and appeasing the US, and not drug trafficking.
No one disputes the power, corrupting influence or horrific violence projected by the cartels. “You could see them walking in the mall [in Coban] before the siege,” says Cesar Bol, a leading activist with the National Indigenous and Campiseno Coordination Organisation (CONIC).
“They openly carried pistols on their belts, wore brand new clothes, drove brand new trucks and spoke with Mexican accents.”
But in farming villages, church halls and independent research offices, there is deep scepticism about the government’s actions.
“The state of siege is a strategy of the government to attack social movements,” says Carlos Morales, who works for farmers’ rights with the Union of Campiseno Organisations of Verapaz.
At least two activists, Chabil Utzaj and Pablo Sacrab, have been arrested in Alta Verapaz under the pre-text of the siege, another farmers’ rights groups says.
Sitting beside bags of fertiliser and posters of the revolutionary Che Guevara in a warehouse-turned-office, Morales says the Zetas don’t live in his municipality of Santa Cruz, a 15-minute drive from Coban.
He thinks the siege is staged and simply an excuse for repression, rather than a legitimate attempt to battle traffickers.
“There are agrarian conflicts in much of Alta Verapaz,” he says. “The government is trying to silence groups organising for land reform and against mega-projects like hydro-electric dams and palm oil plantations.”
While many urban Guatemalans do not share Morales’s analysis, there is scepticism about why a state of emergency would be declared in Alta Verapaz, as it is not the country’s most violent area.
Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the Americas, with 52 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 14 in Mexico and 5.4 in the US.
Haroldo Shetemul, a columnist with Prensa Libre newspaper, Guatemala’s largest daily, notes that 57.7 per cent of the country’s murders in 2010 happened in the region around Guatemala City, the capital.
If stopping violence and protecting average people is the goal of the siege, he writes, then Alta Verapaz “wasn’t necessarily a priority”.
The siege declaration didn’t “exactly have the aim of protecting the population as a whole, but instead was a response to particular interests.”
see the rest of the article, from al-jazeera