Guatemala Cracks Down on Protests over Blackouts

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom decreed Tuesday a state of exception in the western province of San Marcos, since last week the scene of protests against the constant electricity blackouts.

Interior Minister Raul Velazquez told reporters that the measure will have an initial duration of 15 days.

The state of exception, which does not require the approval of Congress, limits the right to public demonstrations, bans the bearing of arms and parking vehicles in areas and at hours that affect the operation of public services.

Velasquez said the decision of President Colom to restrict constitutional guarantees was done to guarantee security and gradually restore electricity in San Marcos, which borders on Mexico.

Security forces are empowered to break up any demonstration in the province.

Velasquez said that the decision to impose emergency measures was because “movements of criminal groups have been detected in San Marcos” inciting the protests.

Thousands of peasants blocked Thursday and Friday the last border crossings with Mexico to protest the constant blackouts, which they blame on Spanish utility Unión Fenosa.

But Union Fenosa spokesman Hector Salvatierra told Efe last week that the problem arose because “power lines are overloaded because groups of settlers in the area have kept employees from checking the lines and servicing them.”

He said that for more than a year a group calling itself Frena has illegally exercised “complete control” of power lines serving the municipalities of San Pablo, El Carmen, Catalina, Malacatan and El Rodeo, and is charging residents for supplying them with electricity.

“More than 60,000 households have taken the bait and have paid these people, which has cost Union Fenosa losses of more than 70 million quetzales (nearly $1 million), since those affected have stopped paying their bills,” Salvatierra said. EFE

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