Guatemalan official loses job during UI conference

A Guatemalan cabinet member left his position on April 11 – the same day he gave a keynote speech at a University conference.

Victor Montejo, the secretary of peace in Guatemala and a noted author, submitted his resignation at the request of President Oscar Berger Perdomo, according to Latinnews Daily. Montejo served in the position since 2004.

Tim Smith, associate director of Latin American and Caribbean Studies and close friend of Montejo, said Montejo planned to resign on Wednesday but President Berger fired him before he could resign.

“While he (Montejo) was at the symposium, he was being criticized and publicly denounced by the president,” Smith said.

Smith said Montejo planned to resign because his department’s budget was severely cut.

Montejo was in town to speak at a conference hosted by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Called “From a Springtime of Democracy to a Winter of Cold War: The 1954 Guatemalan Coup and its lasting impact on U.S./Latin American Relations,” the conference discussed U.S. foreign policy.

Montejo was the lone ethnic Mayan in the Guatemalan cabinet, Smith said.

Ethnic Mayans have faced significant discrimination since Spanish colonial times. Last year, a United Nations representative said racism against Mayans in Guatemala was “deep and serious.”

“He said (during the speech) that he felt he was being used as the token member of the Mayan cabinet,” Smith said.

Author of the book Voices of Exile, Montejo was a professor at the University of California at Davis before being elected to his current position.

During Montejo’s speech on Monday, he compared today’s fear of terrorism to the fear of Communism during the Cold War. He went on to compare the political polarization of many European nations in the 1950s and 1960s to today’s globalization and the negative impact on the indigenous community within Guatemala.

“The conditions remain almost the same among indigenous people,” Montejo said in his speech.

The conference was held to educate students about the past and try and prevent it from happening in the future.

“The purpose for this conference is to ask ‘what can we do’ as students and people from the first world,” Montejo said. “We need to increase our knowledge about the situation.”

His speech, given in Spanish, was translated by Judith Maxwell from Tulane University.

The conference was partly funded by a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and the U.S. Department of State.

The conference was held to mark the 50-year anniversary of a CIA-sponsored military coup in 1954, in which the democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz Guzm n was overthrown. Civil war broke out in the country, and fighting continued until 1996.

Smith said the conference was not to emphasize the coup itself, but rather to highlight the consequences of assisting in the overthrow of a government without an effective plan of development.

In total, 10 speakers from across the country spoke during the conference. Smith said there were about 150 people in attendance.