Guatemalan university students are regularly assassinated by the military, two student leaders told a small gathering at the Kennedy School of Government yesterday.
The two students who lead the anti-government student activities at the University of San Carlo, Guatemala, described the kidnappings and murders of their fellow students to a group of six listeners.
"The military attacks students because we've played a very important role in the social change in Guatemala," said Otto E. Peralta, president of the Association of University Students.
In the past, military forces have bombed the organization's office and assassinated its members, Peralta said.
During preparations for last spring's annual activist parade, military forces opened fire after a clash with students, Peralta said. One activist was killed and several others were injured.
Tensions have risen in Guatemala since anti-government activist Rigoberta Menchu Tum won the Nobel peace prize last month, the students said.
"The government's big fear is that events may take place fueled by the awarding of the Nobel prize which the government won't be able to hold back," Peralta said.
According to Peralta, activists expect new waves of violence this fall because they feel the publicity generated by the prize has made the Guatemalan government feel more vulnerable.
"At the present point there is a real chance that the military and government's power will be taken away," he said.
Peralta, and fellow student Chico Perancen, said they made the trip to America partly because heightened tensions have made the country unsafe for activist leaders.
"I am scared to go visit family in south Guatemala for fear of putting them into danger," Perancen said.
Peralta and Perancen hope their visit to the United States will make American students aware of the violence against fellow scholars.
The leaders said they hope American students will write letters demanding that the United States cut off all aid to the Guatemalan government.
Peralta and Perancen's trip is being sponsored by a group of peace and human rights activists based in Rhode Island, said Central American Solidarity Association organizer Sara A. Silver.
The students visited the University of Massachusetts earlier this week. They will continue their tour at Brown University, Dartmouth College and other institutions in New York and Texas.