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Guatemalan foreign minister: Murdered indigenous protesters not something to ‘make a big deal about’

GUATEMALA CITY – United Nations diplomats and ambassadors from the United States, European Union and Israel on Tuesday criticized Guatemala’s use of soldiers in public security operations, following violent military repression of a protest last Thursday that left eight indigenous Guatemalans dead in the western region of the country.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Harold Caballeros, who confirmed eight deaths instead of seven as originally reported, met with members of the international diplomatic corps to deliver an official report of the attack, which happened as members of the Guatemalan military broke up a protest in Totonicapán, 170 kilometers west of the capital.

“With sadness, I recognize that in some parts of the world eight deaths is a very big deal, but, although it sounds bad to say this, … every day we have double that number of deaths [from violence]. So, it’s not something that we should make a big deal about,” Caballeros told members of the news media.

According to the government’s Human Rights Office, soldiers opened fire on a group of thousands of indigenous protesters from the department of Totonicapán, who blocked a section of the Inter-American Highway to draw attention to increasing electricity rates and policies of the administration of President Otto Pérez Molina.

“It’s sad that a legitimate protest has ended with deaths. The risks entailed with maintaining military forces in areas of public security policy are incredibly high,” the U.N.’s representative in Guatemala for the High Commission on Human Rights, Alberto Brunori, said.

“The government has told us that the use of the military is provisional, but I don’t think that’s appropriate,” the European Union’s ambassador to Guatemala, Stella Zervoudaki, said.

“The desire of the army is not to be involved in this [breaking up protests], and that’s not what we would hope to see happening,” U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacón said.

Israel’s ambassador, Eliahu López, said it was necessary to train security forces and analyze the role of the military in times of peace.

“This is not a war, it’s not an armed conflict, it’s a protest, and it’s necessary to have the appropriate training to manage the situation,” López said.

Since the killings, Pérez Molina has promised to review security protocol to avoid future violent confrontations between the military and protesters.

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