GUATEMALA CITY – At least 14 former peasant paramilitaries died Saturday and more than 25 were seriously injured when the bus transporting them through a rural area of western Guatemala plunged into a ravine, emergency management officials said.
“We rescued 14 bodies from the twisted wreckage of the bus, and took 25 to the national hospital at San Marcos, several of them in critical condition,” voluntary firefighters’ spokesperson Cecilio Chacaj told reporters.
According to witnesses, the bus of the Fuentes del Norte company plunged down a ravine on a curve of the highway between the towns of Tejutla and Concepcion Tutuapa, at some 280 kilometers (175 miles) west of the Guatemalan capital, as a result of reckless driving.
“The driver was going really fast and when he came to the curve, the brakes failed and we crashed down the ravine,” one of the survivors of the accident told local media.
The victims, both dead and injured, were former members of the Civil Self-Defense Patrols, known collectively as the PAC, paramilitaries who collaborated with the army to fight leftist guerrillas during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war.
They were natives of the Tejutla community in San Marcos province, and were headed for Concepcion Tutuapa to be paid compensation by the government for services rendered.
“There were about 60 of us on the bus, all ex-militiamen who were going to Concepcion Tutuapa to get paid,” the survivor said.
Without waiting for prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office to arrive, family members of the 14 dead recovered the bodies and, by their own means, took them to different communities in Tejutlan for burial.
According to local media, the hospital in San Marcos, where the injured were taken, had insufficient medical staff and resources to deal with the emergency and was in a state of collapse.