An off-duty solider who was doused in petrol and set alight at a protest in Guatemala on November 17 is the latest victim of an attempted lynching.
The victim, Julio Ortiz Ordoñez, who has been in the army for three years as a member of the Southern Air Command, suffered third degree burns on 40 percent of his body after demonstrators attacked him.
A representative from the army, Hugo Rodriguez, told Agencia EFE that the young soldier’s assault occurred when he stopped to observe a protest by members of a mototaxi association in the Retalhuleu province, in the southwest of the country. The demonstrators, some 150 in total, were apparently protesting against the widespread use of extortion in the area.
However, Argentina’s Télam news agency reported that, according to an unnamed source, the demonstration was over the poor state of the local health care system.
Indeed, TeleSur reported last week that the country’s minister of health and social welfare, Mariano Rayo, declared that the country’s hospitals are in “dire state”, blaming the situation on corruption and mismanagement.
Rodriguez, nevertheless, told EFE that Ortiz’s assault was a case of mistaken identity as angry protesters mistook the 27-year-old solider for one the supposed extortionists. Despite the fact it was an “isolated” incident, the spokesman has advised army personnel to keep their distance from similar protests in the future to avoid such attacks.
According to HispanTV, Ortiz is now recuperating in a military hospital in Guatemala City.
This is the latest lynching incident to occur in Guatemala.
In October, Bacilio Juracan, the mayor of Concepcion, a town in the Solola province, was set alight and lynched to death by enraged residents who held him responsible for ordering the attempted murder of Lorenzo Sequec, a political rival.
The attempt on Sequec’s life left two teenage girls dead, including his 17-year-old daughter, and five people injured. Citizens of Concepción heard of the attack, and within a few hours an angry crowd, deciding on Juracan’s guilt, sought him out and killed him.
Another lynching, which occurred earlier this year, caused outcry throughout the country. Not because of the nature of the crime, but because of the victim’s young age. The victim, who was beaten and set ablaze, was just 16-years-old.
A furious crowd set the girl on fire, believing she had carried out the murder of a 68-year-old taxi driver who refused to pay extortion on behalf of her father, a gang member serving time in prison.
A common problem?
Lynchings – or linchamiento in Spanish – are a problem in several countries in the region, including Mexico, Bolivia, and El Salvador. However, Guatemala has one of the highest number of recorded incidences of lynchings. In 2013, the Human Rights Ombudsman Office of Guatemala reported that 47 people were killed and 441 were injured as a result of lynchings.
Vigilante justice is commonplace in Guatemala, a country overwhelmed by the prevalence of violence, armed criminal gangs, and impunity, with a political and judicial system which is straining under the weight of endemic corruption and lack of resources. Ordinary citizens are taking the law into their own hands in often extreme and violent ways.