Orthodox Jewish community leaves Guatemalan village after clashing with Mayan population

August 29, 2014

GUATEMALA CITY — A community of 230 Orthodox Jews from several countries Thursday began leaving the Guatemalan indigenous village where they lived for six years after claims and counterclaims of discrimination and threats.

Their exit from San Juan La Laguna, on the banks of Lake Atitlán and 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the capital Guatemala City, follows a meeting Wednesday in which Jewish and indigenous representatives failed to reach an agreement.

“We are a people of peace and in order to avoid an incident we’ve already begun to leave the village,” Misael Santos, a representative from the Jewish community, told AFP.

They had received threats, Santos said.

“We have a right to be there, but they threatened us with lynching if we don’t leave the village,” he added.

Most members of the small Jewish community are from the United States, Israel, the U.K. and Russia, and around 40 are Guatemalan. Approximately half are children.

Since October, the local indigenous population has accused the Orthodox Jews of discriminating against them and of violating Mayan customs.

The Council of Indigenous Elders said the Jewish community “wanted to impose their religion” and was undermining the Catholic faith that is predominant in the village.

“We act in self-defense and to respect our rights as indigenous people. The [Guatemalan] Constitution protects us because we need to conserve and preserve our culture,” council spokesman Miguel Vásquez told AFP.

AFP
Misael Santos, a member of the Orthodox Jewish community, looks on during a meeting with leaders of San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala, on Wednesday. AFP
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