GUATEMALA CITY – Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets of this capital over the weekend for protests for and against President Alvaro Colom, who is accused of masterminding the murders of a leading businessman and a prominent attorney, charges he vehemently denies.
More than 40,000 people, according to organizers, traveled to the capital from across Guatemala and gathered in Constitution Plaza to show their support for Colom.
“We are here to defend democracy and the rule of law,” Juan Alfaro, secretary-general of the ruling social-democratic UNE party, said at Sunday’s rally.
The hundreds of buses that carried the president’s supporters to Guatemala City bore signs saying “Colom, We Are with You” and “With Colom Until Death.”
The peasants who made up the majority of the crowd reacted indignantly to claims that they had been bribed to make the trip to the capital.
“I came with my family from Totonicapan to support Colom. Nobody paid me or offered anything in exchange. What the rich (opposition) say about them paying us are pure lies. What they want is to get rid of the president of the poor,” Sebastian Axuj, an Indian carrying a large portrait of the president, told Efe.
A short distance from the pro-Colom event, around 40,000 people – again, according to organizers – protested in the Plaza Italia to demand that the president step down.
Most of these protesters were middle- and upper-class people from urban areas, and they were led by business and opposition leaders.
“This is not a battle of the rich against the poor, it’s an expression of the people, who are fed up with so much violence, impunity and corruption. We want Colom to resign and to leave a prisoner, so Guatemala can change,” Juan Carlos Sagastume, who attends a private university, told Efe.
The two protests were peaceful and no incidents were reported.
Colom is “calm” and confident that “the truth will come out soon,” presidential spokesman Fernando Barillas told reporters.
The uproar was touched off by the release of a videotape in which attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg accused Colom of murder just three days before the lawyer himself was gunned down while bicycling in an upscale Guatemala City neighborhood.
Rosenberg said on the video that he had evidence of the involvement of the president and his associates in the April 14 slayings of businessman Khalil Musa and his daughter, Marjorie.
Musa, recently appointed by Colom to the board of the public-private Banrural development bank, was killed for refusing to cover up “illegal, multi-million-dollar transactions being carried out day after day” at the financial institution, Rosenberg said.
The transactions “range from money laundering to the diversion of public funds to nonexistent programs run by first lady Sandra de Colom, as well as the financing of shell companies used by drug traffickers,” Rosenberg said.
“I haven’t killed anyone. I’m not a drug trafficker and I’ve never made shady deals against the opposition. The truth about Rosenberg’s murder will be revealed; the truth about the preparation of the video and the hatching of this plot also will be discovered,” Colom told Efe last week in an interview.
On the video, the lawyer said Colom, his wife and associates of the president were planning to murder him.
“If you are watching this video, it’s because I, Rodrigo Rosenberg, was murdered by the president’s private secretary, Gustavo Alejos, and his partner, Gregorio Valdez, with the approval of President Alvaro Colom and Sandra (Torres) de Colom,” the attorney says in the video.
The probe into the killings of the Musas and Rosenberg is being conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala with assistance from the FBI. EFE